Friday, July 24, 2009

Phone Phobia

Anyone in my family could tell you that I've never been a big fan of telephonic communication. Who knows how these things start. At my age I'm too old to go back and try to reconstruct when it started. However, I do not remember the phone being a critical component of my teenage existence...and I was a teen WAY before we had all these great online tools that allowed for nearly complete phone avoidance. I did not even have a cell phone until I started dating Eric, which means it would have been about 2003. I simply refused to get one, using the argument that I didn't WANT people to always be able to reach me. Eventually I conceded to allowing Eric to be able to reach me whenever he wanted, and got the darned phone. It turned out that it was a much more cost-effective method of communicating with my west-coast-based family as well. There were certainly more people in my contact list than just my family at the point that Eric died, but I really only used my cell regularly to talk to Eric.

I've always found cell phones inherently creepy. People pretty much have them with them all the time. So if they ring, there are limited excuses for them not to be answered

(1) The person is already on the phone. I could digress and share my luddite-ish opinion of call waiting, but we'll just leave that be for now. I'll simply allow that my opinion on call waiting led to several marital spats that never ended pleasantly.

(2) The person could just not be able to take any calls at the moment. This is self-explanatory, and happens to all of us all the time. We know when we can't take a call, even if the person on the other end is in the dark. Unfortunately, the in-the-darkness of the calling party leaves another, quite horrible, third alternative:

(3) The person could answer the phone, in fact would answer the phone, except for the fact that they simply don't want to talk to YOU. I hate not picking up the phone because I'm avoiding a specific person, but admit to having done it and feeling actual GUILT about it. I also hate the potential that every time I make a cell phone call, someone else could be making exactly the same judgment call about me.

This was the situation on March 27, 2009. Then Eric died, and that took my phone phobia all the way up to eleven.

Technically, I found out that Eric was dead over the phone. When Eric was late getting home from a day trip to his father's property in Indiana, I called his brother to ask if he'd check the woods to see if Eric was still there. I warned him that Eric had threatened suicide and I was worried. Cary's wife stayed on the phone with me so she could "let me know everything was OK" right away. At some point, as we chatted, she said something that amounted to "I've got to go..." and I knew. I knew before Eric's other brother, Gary, and his wife showed up at my door in tears. They were the ones who actually told me Eric was dead, but it wasn't new news at that point. So is it any wonder that I'm not overly enthusiastic about talking on the phone right now?

Right after Eric died, a lot of people wanted to reach out to me, just to make sure I was OK. I was completely overwhelmed, and generally not interested to talking to anyone who wasn't right there with me at the time. I was surrounded by family and I let them answer the phone. There were a couple of times when they informed me I really needed to take the call: when Jack Hannah called because of Eric's connection with the Columbus Zoo and when the executive director of my library system called, for example. Essentially I was in a constant state of not-taking-calls (see #2, above). This was a temporary thing, but it lasted for several weeks. Gradually, I started answering the phone again when I felt like it, and didn't when I didn't. I didn't always return calls. I admit I was rude. People who care about me will forgive me, those who don't care about me enough to forgive me for that lapse of etiquette can suck it.

On my first day back to work, I got in my car, ready to head home, and started crying. I didn't have anyone to call to tell I was on my way. I called my friend Molly instead. It helped, but there's still a void at those times when the cel phone would really be a useful tool: at the grocery store when trying to remember if there's still an onion in the fridge, when trying to figure out if there's anything that you need to pick up on the way home, etc. All those times are opportunities for me to remember Eric. Increasingly, that's a good thing.

My problem with the phone is diminishing daily, but since I've never liked using my phone very much, I've come to rely on the thing more for texting than actual voice communication. I have all the same anti-phone feelings I had before...but there's one much bigger one that I realize has begun to emerge. There is something very intimate about being able to talk to someone wherever they are, whenever you want to. In the loneliness of recent widowhood, that level of intimacy isn't the least little bit comfortable most of the time. This has nothing to do with relationship-y single-girl awkwardness...I'm not even there yet. I'm in a household of one again, and there are blessed few people I feel comfortable enough with to intrude on their lives whenever I feel lonely.

So, understand, friends, that my relationship with my phone is complex at the moment. If I don't answer the phone when you call, it could be any of the three reasons listed above, and I'm going to avoid feeling apologetic if it's number three (but if you're reading this, it probably isn't)! If I don't call you, it's not personal, it “just is.” Like I “just am.” Welcome to my life, the primary occupation of which is daily trying to get to a level of neurosis more in keeping with my pre-3-27 levels.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Supersize Me

I've been listening to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and my current key takeaway is that Ms. Didion got very lucky in that she lost her appetite when her husband passed away(I'm not very far into the book, and promise to have more profound insights into this National Book Award winner when I'm feeling less superficial, not to mention less constrained by my too-tight pants). I am officially very, very jealous.

I lost my appetite immediately after I found out that Eric had died, and actually had enough time to be generally optimistic about the prospect of using Eric's death as a springboard to getting to my goal weight. That early optimism lasted until my brother, Aaron, arrived and announced that I had to eat something. He then proceeded to make me "Anderson Family Mac & Cheese," which is so delicious in part because it is simply chock full of calories. Then the neighbors started arriving with equally delicious food...and from there it was a downhill spiral of comfort eating for the newly minted Widow Snyder. Roughly 3 and a half months after Eric's death I fit comfortably into size 12 pants. Unfortunately my wardrobe consists primarily of size 6 and 8 pants. With the hideous life insurance legal battle (HLILB) in full swing, this is not an opportune time to purchase an entirely new wardrobe, and while friends have generously donated me-sized pants to the cause, my slowly-but-surely increasing bulk is beginning to pose a bit of a problem. In short, I've got to get some of this weight off of me.

Here's the problem: while Eric was informed (almost daily) that he was "not the boss of me," he did have a certain power to keep me honest. Certainly, "are you sure you want to eat that" is not a popular husbandly comment by any stretch of the imagination (even when said nicely and with the intent to avoid future wifely weight-related complaints), but it has a certain power nevertheless. In addition, people tend to be really nice to widows. Everyone tells me not to worry about the weight, which is very kind, but ultimately unhelpful. It's really not an issue of me being shallow and girly, I genuinely feel uncomfortable at this weight, and not just because my pants are too tight. Plus, now GT is getting pissed as she wants to look cute in a bikini (a BLACK one). GT can be as shallow as she wants, but I want to approach this from the more feminist angle that I simply feel better at a lighter weight. What I've slowly come to realize is that no one really cares what I weigh except me. When I was single before there was always some real or hypothetical guy who might care...but I'm not exactly trolling for Eric's replacement right now, so there really and truly is no one to care but me (and GT). It strikes me as both odd and SAD that my own caring doesn't appear to be enough to motivate me, and this fact alone probably totally diminishes my efforts to be un-shallow about this whole sad mess.

So, perhaps I need to listen to GT some more, as even though she is shallow she may actually be motivated to get the weight off already. And perhaps, just perhaps, publishing this post will force me to be accountable to myself. The hall-pass of widowhood is hereby revoked. Let the excercise and sensible eating commence.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I wanted to get home before dark last night. Unfortunately, dark came sooner than expected.

Most people actually want to be out after dark on the Fourth of July to watch fireworks. But I don’t like fireworks. It’s not a popular stance, but I have my reasons.

First, I happen to think that public fireworks are expensive and pointless. And, in my opinion, the money spent on fireworks by cities, counties and corporations could be put to much better use supporting nonprofits and social services.

Second, I think that private fireworks are dangerous. I’ve felt this way my whole life. Even as a kid, on the Fourth of July, after I’d run around with one sparkler in the driveway I was done and wanted to go inside and get far away from the fireworks.

Although these are my personal opinions, for years I would go celebrate the Fourth of July with friends and eat barbecue and watermelon and keep my mouth shut about my opinions when the fireworks started.

Even last night, there were four different social gatherings I was invited to. But I didn’t want to go anywhere after dark. I haven’t gone anywhere after dark on the Fourth of July for four years now.

Four years ago, on the Fourth of July, I was heading out to meet some friends. I only got two blocks from my house when some kids set off some kind of firecracker right next to my car. It was so loud. It was so scary. I burst into tears and had to pull the car over to the side of the road.

I took me awhile to pull myself together. When I did, instead of continuing on to the party, I turned around and went home. I went to bed early but sat there with the lights on and jumped and fought back tears every time I hear the popping and whizzing and cracking of the fireworks that were going on all around me.

As I sat there, I realized that this was some form of PTSD. The firecracker that detonated next to my car was, for me, a manifestation of the explosion that had killed Stan. This was only three weeks after he had died. I was still crying daily, but that firecracker didn’t just extract tears of grief, but tears of fear. The fear that I imagined he felt as he was dying on the side of the road in Baghdad. The fear I felt for all of the men and women serving in Iraq.

Last night, like every Fourth of July since, I didn’t want to be out during the fireworks. But dinner with my friend took a little longer than expected and it was dark by the time we were driving home. Thank God he was driving because as we got close to my house, there were people, families, out in the street lighting fire to loud and scary things. I started to feel nervous, I felt the tears coming and I just wanted to get home to my bed.

I sat up last night, in bed, with the lights on waiting for the noises from the fireworks to stop just like I’ve done every Fourth of July for the past four years. But that’s okay. I know that it’s okay to still have fear and still be upset. Maybe someday I’ll feel differently and I’ll be able to enjoy this holiday again. But even if I have the same reaction to fireworks for the rest of my life, it’s an honest and sincere reaction to something tragic that happened to someone I love and the trauma that I suffered because of it. And that’s a part of who I am now and just another reason why I don’t like fireworks.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Morbid Curiosity

Three months ago my husband, Eric, took his own life in rural Indiana while I was sitting at home in central Ohio. While it's emotionally crippling to learn of one's husband's death, in these particular circumstances the first thing the world expects one to do is figure out what to do with the "remains." So, one of my first acts as a newly-minted widow was to decide that Eric should be cremated in Indiana. I never saw his body, and do not regret this decision. For the past three months an improbably heavy plastic black box has sat quietly in a closet waiting for me to decide what to do with it, until last night when I discovered that there is a goth teen living inside me, trying to get out.

It all started when a friend told me that you can get tattoos with the ashes of a loved one mixed into the ink. Dan has recently lost his wife, Staci, to cancer, and was planning on getting such a tattoo. He was even able to tell me with authority that there are four places in the Columbus area that do this type of tattoo. Goth teen got very excited about this idea. What would she get? Where would she get it done? What to do with the ashes has long been an internal debate, since Eric wanted them scattered on the Appalachian Trail, but I wanted to keep some close to me, too. Goth teen thought this tattoo thing was the perfect solution. Goth teen was ready to go out and get a tattoo right now, forget that it was late at night and I was jammie-clad. It’s not like I don’t already have a tattoo, what would be wrong with one more? Goth teen said “now, now, now.” It occurs to me that this goth teen may have been slightly spoiled by the morbid thoughts of a recently widowed woman and that I should probably rein this in, but admit to being a bit curious about where all this was headed. Enter the box of Eric’s remains.

Eric’s ashes are in a black plastic box that measures 8” x 6” x 4.” It weighs 12 pounds. It feels impossibly heavy for its size. (The guy at the funeral home acknowledged that he was surprised by its weight as well.) There is a small white label with Eric’s name, cremation number, and cremation date. The whole thing is wrapped in a rubber band that serves no apparent purpose, though I believe that it at one time held documentation that has since been put elsewhere. Since goth teen (let’s just go with “GT” from here on out) hadn’t asserted herself when the ashes arrived from Indiana, I hadn’t thought to ask the obvious questions such as: “How do I open this box?” or “Are the ashes just loose in there, or is there some sort of secondary container?” or anything else remotely logistical about how and what to do with this ridiculously heavy, not-suitable-for-display thing I now needed to do something with.

GT removed the ashes from the closet. She couldn’t figure out how to open the box any more than I could. However, being less squeamish than I, GT used a butter knife to pry the lid open. I was relieved to find that the ashes inside the box were encased in a plastic bag secured by a twist tie. My mind, horrified by the thought of a kitchen floor swirling with my dead husband’s remains, relaxed a little and decided to let GT get it out of her system. We looked at the ashes together. The color was not a surprise. Gray was definitely what I’d been expecting. I admit the visible presence of shards of bone in with the gray dust gave me pause, though. GT stopped and thought about how the proposed tattoo scenario would play out. How would the tattoo artist deal with the, erm, chunks?

Then the dog farted, and GT, like many teens before her, including the one I once was, decided she’d had enough for the evening and went to bed. While she can deal with the darker stuff surrounding Eric’s death in a way I can’t, she definitely needs me to deal with the regular day to day stuff that can be so hard: taking care of the dogs, and (lord have mercy) dealing with mowing the lawn. We are developing a nice kind of symbiosis, GT and I. I think I’ll keep her around…but I’m not sure if she’s going to get her way about the tattoo, we may need to have a long talk.

Since Rebecca started with Stan's funeral, I think it's particularly appropriate that I had an odd moment with Eric's ashes last night. I am intrigued by both the differences and the similarities in the experiences Rebecca and I have had. As we go, I’m certain interesting parallels will emerge between her mature grief, and my newer/rawer version. I hope that by sharing our experiences we can help others get through difficult times, and help those who have the good fortune never to have experienced such a loss understand better what those of us who have go through. For me, at least, humor is a critical component of my grieving process. People sometimes don’t understand this part of my grief. Please understand that my husband DIED of terminal depression. People who are sad all the time end up, well, where Eric is. Sometimes I need to force myself to laugh, and my laughter hasn’t been the same since Eric died, but it’s an important component of being alive. So, I try to find humor in this dark ride I’m on every day.