One of the first lessons I received regarding my new life as a widow, came even before I was widowed, a week before my husband's death. By that time he had been in a coma for weeks and was in the acute ICU section of the hospital. I was crying for most of those days. Thankfully, I could stop while I was driving the hour to the hospital but once there, I could not stop the tears - they flowed endlessly. I was bringing the boys to the hospital after school and I'd already been there during the day. Because no food was allowed in the ICU, I'd stop for kiddie meals at some fast food place along the way and the boys would eat dinner in the van. Actually, the eating in the van thing had been going on for a number of weeks, not just at the end. I was focused on having the boys spend as much time as they could with their Dad. Although I had not been officially told, I intuitively knew that death was near.
Anyway, that is a little background as to what was going on in our life at that point. I'd just taken a leave of absence from my 20-hour-a-week job which had been granted very reluctantly. I was doing my best to take care of the boys and manage the impending death of my spouse. The boys would often complete their homework in the van and were still participating in soccer and baseball. We were even involved in completing a creative arts project sponsored by our PTA. So this was not really an academic requirement. The kids were supposed to create some type of artwork be it a poem, drawing, painting, musical composition, etc. Both boys were doing a photographic collage. The artwork was due on a Wednesday. My husband died three days later on Saturday. The boys handed in their entries on the Wednesday due date.
But my oldest son's teacher rewarded those students who handed in their entries early, on Monday, by giving them a Krispy Kreme Donut. We had been at the hospital the whole weekend. I'd planned all along to hand in the entries on the day due. And now looking back I can't even believe that I just didn't have the sense to say the hell with the whole, silly art competition in the first place. Trust me - we had enough on our plates. I should mention that the school was aware of our situation and I had spoken personally to the teachers, staff and principal.
Going back to this story, because my son hadn't turned in his art work early, he did not get a donut. Nor did a handful of other classmates who all happened to be minority kids and/or the ones living in the apartments. I was pretty outraged at the time. My son did feel hurt - he was left out - and he was publicly excluded. The sad part of this whole story is that those excluded kids all handed in their projects by the due date. They just didn't get them completed early.
I think this situation just demonstrated to me that the world really doesn't give a darn about what is going on in your life. We still need to play by the rules put in place. And usually those rules don't allow for any type of adjustment, even if one is struggling or dealing with major life calamities. For a while I contemplated talking to the teacher and principal about this but after my husband died, the importance of the matter took a back seat. I guess it is still important though because I am reflecting on it now, years later. And I wish I had said something when the time would have been right. At least now I am verbal and do speak up when a situation like this rears its ugly head.
So this was probably the first widowhood lesson I received. That we have to try and fit into a world that just keeps buzzing by. Picture a train pulling into a station without really stopping. We have to jump on. No one is slowing down for us or making any concessions about our new lives. This teacher didn't even have the compassion, sense or decency to think about why this little group of 10-year-olds hadn't been able to hand in their art projects early. One's father was dying.
We're already living on borrowed time and energy. We're doing the job that used to be handled by two. We're trying to figure out the rules, find our way and stumble onward. Instead of care and sympathy, I have largely encountered criticism for grieving too long, making mistakes or the wrong decisions and not being able to keep up the pace. So not only do we not get any breaks but we don't get recognition or encouragement for trying our best to fit into a new and alien world.
I believe I ended up buying a box, maybe two of Krispy Kreme Donuts for my sons but I don't really remember. It seems like something I would have done so I'll go with that image. But I'm sure that the extra treat didn't lessen the sting of being publicly excluded. All for reasons beyond my son's control.
Today I am grateful:
1. For wind chimes.
2. For candles.
3. For paper.
4. For books.
5. For pens.