Of happy days and holes in hearts
I was folding laundry the other day while the Food Network was on TV in the background.
It was a red-headed, soft-spoken lady who bakes farm fresh stuff like pot roasts and home baked apple pies. I could almost hear my late husband Matthew's stomach rumbling as I remember how he loved watching this kind of stuff on the Food Network. He used to joke about how great it would have been to marry a chef. I used to joke how that chef probably never would have had time for ...umm... other fun things in her marriage. He used to watch sweet baker ladies like this one lovingly add ingredient after ingredient to a beautiful from-scratch pie that probably tasted like heaven. Then we'd look at each other and just laugh. Because he and I both knew I would never have gotten past the first two ingredients before giving up or if I did attempt it, then I'd likely have burned the hell out of it. I remember so much laughter on account of the Food Network back then.
Tears fell into the laundry right then.
The kids and I went to the Midwest to visit family for Thanksgiving this year. I spent a few days laughing with my sisters, eating and drinking too much and watching all our kids delight in cousin silliness. I had fun despite the fact that one of those days was Matthew's ‘funeral’ day. The anniversary of his funeral, three years ago. I didn't say anything about it. I kept my emotions quiet. I had a good day. I even sent my sweet friend Chris back in Arizona an emoji heart text to say goodnight from my hotel. But then Shutterfly sent me an email that evening. One of those “look at your memories of this week three years ago” emails ... and I clicked on it. The pictures were from the funeral. My kids —who seemed so little then—stood next to their father’s casket. Hugging a big flower-adorned wooden box that held the remains of their entire world. A stunned mother and her four kids staring numbly at that box before it was lowered into the ground forever.
So despite that happy day, tears still fell on a hotel pillow in Indiana. Tears for a man dead and gone. Tears despite my heart beating wildly for a different man just moments earlier.
There's a family in our neighborhood that we sometimes see playing at the park next to our house. The dad throws the football to his young sons and the mom cheers them on and laughs with every catch. I try to choke back that feeling in my throat watching my kids stare at them. Staring at an activity so basic and everyday to many families, but so desperately appreciated from my four kids mere feet away. I usher the kids to the swings before my eyes can't hold it anymore.
The times I think about losing Matthew is often, despite the fact the kids and I have found some happy days. Despite our present pleasures and fortunate life adventures here at our new home in Arizona. Like any widow would tell you, we'd give anything for just another minute. Just one minute. And I don’t mean a minute of the time he spent at the end of his life, the sad painful moments that were excruciating to witness— the times when we only prayed for a miracle cure or a quick end to his suffering. But I wish for one more minute of HIM, the real him— for just a glimpse of Matthew when he was that person I knew him to be. The man who danced with me all night when I drank my face off at Mikey’s wedding then took care of me during my killer hangover the next morning. The man who did Chris Farley impressions at our Friends Thanksgiving that one year — the year we came back tipsy to a pre-kid home where we not so eloquently devoured each other on the bathroom vanity countertop. The man who roared with laughter at any story about his college days. The man who would delight in buying the coolest gadgets for his kids to unwrap on Christmas morning. The man who always snuck into the kitchen when I made chocolate chip cookies and tried to steal and eat (yet to be burned) raw dough behind my back and run away laughing. What I wouldn’t give just to hear him laugh again. Food Network kind of laughter.
I can't explain the constant void that's ever present just below the surface for people like me. It’s like a deep-seated hunger that’s never satiated, maybe comparable to a feeling of walking around with a hole in your heart. Yet the other fragments of your heart still work perfectly fine. They still beat and flutter, thankful to be alive enough to feel new love despite the loss of an old love.
It’s strange how you can be ok one minute, completely fine and right with the world. But then another minute you can't stop tears from leaking from your eyes as they stare blankly at a television with the farm-to-table baker lady who's making a homemade apple pie.
My stomach rumbles too.
This post was also published January 9, 2021, here at Hope for Widows Foundation.