Thursday, April 30, 2009

Open Letter to My Fellow Widows:

Well, here we are ladies: Young, pretty, rich, and single. (Ok--I'll speak for myself, I'm maybe two out of three--young and single). Either way, it's not a bad place to be, huh? Except that it is. It's terrible and we never thought in a million years that we would be here. Like this. This way.

I have read your blogs and your e-mails and your postings to various cancer-related chat rooms, and I know that you have wondered "why?" Why did this happen to me? Why did this happen to my children? What did I do to deserve this? And, when will I ever get a break? The short answers are: Because; because; nothing; and you won't. But, here are my own long answers to those questions if you'll indulge me. You can take'em or leave'em--they're just my thoughts. Or more accurately, they are the thoughts God has given me that help make things a little easier to bear. If they can be of any similar service to you, I am privileged to share them. I continued this blog after Jeff's death for two reasons: (1) my own personal entertainment (a perfectly suitable form of therapy, in my opinion); and (2) as an informational and educational tool for others who are similarly situated. So, I've decided tonight to momentarily suspend number one in favor of number two. Here goes nothin' . . .

For some reason, I've never asked "why?" Mostly because there is no answer that could satisfy me. No answer could justify my suffering and my children's suffering. Nothing could appease me. But, after thinking about it, I realized, the reason I don't ask why is because although I trust there IS an answer, I'm convinced it is not an answer I can understand. It is easy in our circumstances to feel abandoned by God and to feel punished or betrayed. However, I think that maybe our circumstances are akin to "inoculations."

(Lame Analogy Alert: Now is a good time to go get a cup of coffee if you don't like long-winded, confusing, and picturesque analogies). But, again, I can't resist: When you took your first child to a pediatrician for shots, she was happy or sleeping. You handed her over to a stranger and as she recoiled and grabbed at you for reassurance and comfort, you actually helped the stranger hold her down. As she looked at you, crying in confusion and fear--kicking and fighting to get away--you were all the while talking with the enemy and smiling. Then came the pain that you plainly collaborated with the enemy to inflict--a searing shot (and maybe even two or three) that, from her perspective, served no legitimate purpose whatsoever aside from undermining her trust in you and fostering her sense of loneliness and betrayal. However, from the perspective of a parent who has a much broader spectrum of experience and knowledge that cannot possibly be explained to an infant--you were committing a necessary and perhaps life-saving act of love. Would the baby be convinced of this in a million years?--of course not, because she cannot see and reason from the parent's vantage point.

I believe our experience is much the same. Our tragedies reared their ugly heads unexpectedly while we were happy and sleeping. As we turned to God for comfort, he apparently handed us over to evil or allowed evil to commandeer us and while we were begging for help and deliverance, he sat by silently and watched--maybe even coordinating or controlling our circumstances to our detriment. But, I trust it may not be that simple. Like the baby--although logically it appears God has abandoned us or betrayed us or sat idly by--perhaps he has allowed this tragedy into our lives as a necessary and maybe even life-saving act of love. Do I really believe this? Well, actually, I do--because for me to try to understand God's ways is like an ant trying to understand physics (or an infant trying to understand Medicine) and I trust that God's experience and knowledge is so far superior to mine that the answer, even if offered, would be unintelligible. So, I trust that the answer--whatever it is--is just and good and perfect and if I understood it, I wouldn't want it any other way. So, instead of asking God, "Why did you do this to me?" I think we should ask him, if anything, "Why did you do this for me?" Because, like everything we have, this tragedy is a gift and I ultimately believe it is intended to help us, or maybe to help us help others.

Would our husbands agree? I'm certain mine wouldn't. I had, in fact, insulted him once by suggesting that there may be some good to come of all this. He could not fathom that any good whatsoever could come from his death, and, perhaps I would feel the same way if I were him. I hope I never have the opportunity to know for sure. But, I have seen the phenomena of good arising from tragedy first-hand. When I was eleven years old, my parents got divorced. My mother raised four of us--two boys and two girls--alone. (Sound familiar?) I'm sure, at the time, my mother asked "why" many times. But, maybe the answer came 25 years later when I could look to her tragedy as an example and take comfort in knowing that not only had I been through something like this before, but I had a mentor in her in how to single-handedly raise two boys and two girls. I can't count the times I have been comforted to know two things from this early experience: (1) that my children and I can still be healthy and happy under extreme circumstances and (2) if my mom could raise four kids as a waitress in Ogallala Nebraska, then I could certainly do it with a law degree in Milwaukee. My parents' divorce was one of the most formative experiences of my life and prepared me in myriad ways for Jeff's last illness and death, and so I have seen first-hand how Good can reveal itself in unlikely ways and how we can mine it from the most unforgiving and unfruitful soil.

But, that doesn't make it easy by any stretch. And although I haven't asked "why," I have asked, "When will I get a break?" The short and long answer is the same: I won't. So, I've stopped expecting one. Tonight, while Finn was in the bathtub, I noticed we had run out of toilet paper. I ran downstairs to get a new roll. By the time I came back upstairs (all of 30 seconds later) he had already gotten out of the tub and removed the inside bowl from the potty chair and was happily rinsing himself and drinking from it in the tub. I didn't know what else to do but laugh. It was awful and for a fleeting moment I mentally berated myself for putting him in a situation where this could happen and I assumed that I must be the world's most negligent mother, etc. But, then I realized--a squeaky clean toddler with an attentive mother on the edge of the tub and a pristine roll of toilet paper nearby is normal for other people, but not for me. Not anymore. That expectation is unreasonable. Instead, I have to expect that Finn will drink out of the potty chair when my back is turned--as it inevitably will be because I have three other children and a household and myself to take care of--and I no longer have the luxury of a husband who is capable and present and willing to share the burden. So, now--I don't get a break; Finn drinks out of the potty chair; my kids get lice; we run out of toilet paper and that is "normal." It is normal for you now, too. Get over it, or get under it, as I like to say . . .

But, whatever you do--don't despair. I know how unfair and painful it is to be thrust into a life of self-sacrifice and chastity cold turkey. I know how excruciating it is to see a husband kiss his wife gently on the forehead as they wait in line with their daughter at Noodles and Company or to witness a father pushing his toddler in the "car" cart at the grocery store and to know that neither you nor your children will enjoy such experiences. I know the physical and emotional ache that accompanies such realizations. And I know what it is like to position the pillows and blankets just right so that you can't see the empty side of the bed as you fall asleep and so that something is touching your back and preventing the cool breeze of nothingness from keeping you awake. I'm sure it is easy in such circumstances to despair. It is hard to smile and say "Well, at least God loves me!" God's love isn't like a husband's love and when you realize that, despair is real easy to come by. But, beware, because I think despair is the worst sin of all.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, it wasn't the betrayal that was his greatest sin (in my opinion), but the despair that caused him to take his own life because in doing so, he prevented God from forgiving him and he lost all opportunity to forgive himself and to be forgiven by others. Similarly, we cannot let despair lead us to self-pity and hopelessness. Just as an inoculation fortifies a baby against known diseases, our tragedies should fortify us against despair. It seems counterintuitive, but I am convinced we are stronger and more prepared to meet it than we were before. So, it is my hope for us that our circumstances can be a gift to each other and to others-- and I like to think that by sharing what I have been given--whether it is the gift of humor and writing through this blog, or the gift of ill-conceived medical analogies, that for my grateful acceptance and sharing of them--and for my unquestioning acceptance of God's will and love (no matter how painful that love may be to accept)--I will someday lead an army in Heaven. And so will you.

Love, Kelly


Anonymous said...

Hi Kelly--

I came across Jeff's blog from a friends blog. I have been following since a little before his death. I love your humor and your writing style but I've never felt compelled to comment until today.

You are such an inspiration for me, as I'm sure you are for others. I'm not widowed, just a single mom--with only one child I might add. So God Bless you girl, you will be fine--and the beautiful thing is, you know it!

Jackie said...

I have been contemplating what to write, since I am not yet a widow, but am unfortunately on that path. My first word was "wanna-be", but that really isn't accurate because there is no "want" anywhere in my situation. Then I thought of "gonna-be" (real creative after the wanna-be) but that sounds so depressing. Regardless of my title, I thank you for not only your kind words, but for being a source of inspiration and strength for the rest of us. You truly make me see that I WILL be ok after all of this... we WILL get through it... we will be better for it. God has a master plan and we are mere puppets.

Peggy Wilkins said...

So well put Kelly! You and your children are blessed and so open to the blessings at hand. Keep on keeping on.

Katie Clancy said...

Kelly, I wish I were closer so I could give you a hug. And take you for a drink. I hope we're in heaven at the same time because I want to be in your army! I don't know how you do it. I hope I can demonstrate one fraction of your strength in my own adversities. You're amazing. K

Terri said...

Like I said before... I think that people are under the impression that life is suppose to be great and wonderful where nothing bad ever happens and when something bad does happen they are like, "What? How could this be happening?" But the truth is (well what I think it is, from my own experiences) is that bad things ARE suppose to happen to people and not that you are suppose to be waiting and expecting bad things to happen, but I think once people accept that bad things are suppose to happen and will, then that is when they will learn and grow from it. So, in conclusion... life has challenges and once we accept that these challenges ARE a part of our life then that is how we learn and grow. "The challenges in life are a part of our life."