‘If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty — narrator, Austen, P&P
I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem — that I like him’ — Emma Thompson as Elinor, S&S, screenplay
All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone — Pascal
Dear friends and readers,
Tonight driving over to our “Chinese take-out,” as we call it (I’ve no idea precisely what Asian people run the place) I saw Christmas lights outlining many houses, the first of the modern outside Christmas tree decorations that have spread, the balloon figures. Thanksgiving over the license to “do” your house up for Christmas has been put in place.
But for me, for us (I dare say, including Yvette in this) of the many times I’ve found holidays, especially Christmas, a hard ordeal to get through, none has been as stressful and trying as this one. I have been desperately unhappy. I hardly know why since the Admiral and I never made much of a fuss about Thanksgiving. Partly because he was English and there is no Thanksgiving in England (nor when he lived there, any Valentine’s Day, nor when growing up any New Year’s Day), or maybe because neither of us have any religious belief (and I’m with Godwin and Malcolm X on gratitude), there were years we didn’t have a turkey, especially once my father died and my mother stopped coming over. While Yvette was away in college and graduate school and Caroline had married, we almost succeeded in ignoring it.
Not quite. It’s hard to ignore what others are so insistent on acknowledging, and since getting on the Net, social life is continually in front of you if you are on-line a good deal — and he and I as well as our two daughters were and are. The last two years he was alive I did buy a turkey, he some nice vegetable from Farmer’s Market, we cooked our bird & veg, had champagne, three of us went for a walk in a self-conscious kind of way, so may be said to have observed Thanksgiving Day. Two years ago Yvette wrote a sincere blog telling what she was newly thankful for (a job!, our reunited family, the cats …)
They do — this triple whammy of late November with the days growing short, cold, dark, bleak as to foliage, the Saturnalia of Christmas and New Year’s — mark another year as passing. This has been the worst year of my life at the same time as at this time last year although I realized the Admiral was ailing, had been suddenly getting older for about a year before, things in him breaking down, I had no idea something mortal has wounded him. Last year at this time we were looking forward to many happy years of retirement together. Although unlike him I would not say we had a good chance of say 20 together (he’d cite a larger number), I did not think less than 1 was already the reality.
I’ve also been having some new realizations. Insights which I were I the self-improving sort truly (I am not that) I’d allude to as there’s an ill wind which does nobody any good. I’m seeing 3 (!) “head shrink” people. A psychiatrist who I find a waste of time: I can recall only one comment he has made which not been a platitude: it’s okay to lean on your daughter. Sometimes he does not realize he’s insulting me: do I want to hurt anyone else? He is ever pressuring me to take continuous drugs and I’m not going to do it. I re-tried zoloft (it’s cheap for Kaiser as an older drug) and have tried the lexipro I(ditto) and within 2-3 days they made me head-achy, woozy; I know they are dangerous (from the point of view of hemmorage). A social-worker psychologist who is a very nice woman, “cognitive therapist” which means she has learned to inculcate “positive thinking,” she listens attentively and offers upbeat advice. Sometimes she comes up with a good nugget I find useful to hold onto as I leave. It’s a paid friendship, $20 a throw.
Unexpectedly the grief support person has come through. I hardly remember who told me about “The Haven,” probably Kaiser people, also the Hospice, and yes the Jewish Social Service Agency woman who wanted to get rid of me because Kaiser will punish them if they allow patients to pay out of pocket for services Kaiser refuses to pay for. I’ve had an astonishing experience — one I was reeling from when I left Cheryl — that’s her name. “The Haven” looks like one. A little house where people who are mourning come to. The services there are for free, so I find it all the more ironic that she is the first person I’ve come across since I was 21 (& went to Jewish Social Services of NYC) who instinctively leads me into the kind of analysis of my past associated psycholanalysis, the talk therapy vindicated for real.
By talking freely of my childhood and how my parents lived as I saw it — now I’ll put it behaved towards me — she led me to see one real explanation of my fear of getting lost and why I panic so (get into deep distress) when I think I am lost. My anxiety over it all and my drive to return home when I’m anywhere else. It’s complicated and painful to explain but it makes sense. Why my mother made some very bad decisions for me early in life — for which I never forgave her. Well, in short she was getting rid of me, acts in which my father acquiesced, equally relieved. I was dumped at 18 months (to an aunt, my earliest memory is from this period, living in a Quonset Hut with my cousins); again at 3 years (to my Jewish grandparents & young aunt when my parents rented an apartment where no children were allowed), twice more (never mind details); and at 16 my mother facilitated the early marriage, got me to promise to lie about her participation, but then my father acquiesced. People have asked me, Why did they not do anything? I never thought about their surprise before. My father told me early on he wanted no more children; one nail in his coffin was enough; she said she took pills to get rid of me before birth. Didn’t work.
How does this help with grief? Well my reaction to Jim’s terminal illness and death is also a function of this. He became father, mother, sister, brother, all I had never had when young. He was utterly reliable; showed up on time; he never wanted me to go away; would never desert me. Would be there when I returned from wherever I had been.
I clearly love Jane Austen’s six major texts, and if I want to justify this to others, often talk of how I first read her at age 12-13 (P&P and S&S) and again at 15 (MP), so she is interwoven with my earliest traumas and if it’s true Doris Lessing might have done me more good, I didn’t know about her. I knew about Austen. And how I don’t read her for the romance at all, but the sentiments, thoughts of the text, narrator’s presence. A favorite line from P&P (and picked up as emphatic in the 1995 S&S) is that a basis for marriage is esteem and gratitude. Well I esteemed the Admiral and was intensely grateful to him. I also cling to her reasonableness, her steadiness, her sense of order and control. That way lies what peace there can be when alone. But not safety. Alas, not safety.
She suggested to me I write a letter to my mother, then one to my father. Apparently this is a technique grief support people practice. I don’t think I can – or can as yet – or maybe ever. I would do it truthfully or want to and it would be unbearably painful or I fear I’d end up berating myself. She was bringing me to see a pattern that if I could break it or understand it might help me understand my relationship with my daughters (as an unmothered mother) and maybe retrieve that some more. I could have had an appointment with her next week but I put it off to the next; now I’m sorry for this is the kind of thing one must work at without too much break. I know I cannot free myself but I could maybe draw out some thing to help myself or come to some resolution about my feelings towards lots of things.
I was all settled I thought for life as of summer 2012; I looked out to a calm quiet future (many HD opera seasons ahead); my future is still going to be quiet — indeed outwardly over this past week I didn’t do much, but I’ve known such ripping searing upheavals over the course of his illness — since he was diagnosed — as I never expected to have again.
Holidays: what I like is quiet routine and low expectations. So now I shall admit to a problem in this my 2nd marriage. For many years was when I was a child I tried to be happy Christmas day; maybe when I was very young, say under 7, I was. But by 8 I knew my parents were very unhappily married and by 11 they stopped cooperating in the pretenses of Christmas. My father had let me know before that he wished I’d stop; my mother was Jewish and it was all a matter of indifference to her. Yet I kept up the effort.
Well, soon after marriage I discovered the Admiral strongly disliked Xmas. As a young child (2-4) he had lived in a condemned house: the UK local gov’t employees who harassed his family to leave produced the usual arguments: they must get out; no they have n where to help them to go to, and no money to facilitate this move; but they must get out. This came to a height one Xmas when there were no toys. There was no money for any. As a child he saw the hypocrisy of this: that everywhere it was asserted how wonderful this holiday was, presents galore, but no recognition of the actuality (that the poor got nothing). I know in that obituary I wrote for him I omitted how he hated his semi-public school for is analogous hypocrisies. How one Christmas in the freezing pouring rain and he and the other boys has to stand outside while a limousine passed by with some parliamentarians in it. He never forgot that.
For a number of years I contended with him to try to pretend for two daughters and way overbought for gifts. I spent ridiculously to see delighted faces the next morning. And yet I could not bear that the illusion really be believed in. Suffice to say in this public place when the girls entered adolescence and young teens I had to give it up; worse, with a sense of sneer and disruption I became distraught and suicidal.
So for two years he took me and Yvette out of the US to break this misery, to wipe away memories. We had a success in Paris — three weeks there. We went to theaters, we wandered about Paris, Versailles, took buses all sorts of places. I can half-speak certainly read French; if someone will speak slow I can understand. When we returned, we decided we’d make a new set of traditions and customs we’d hold to: Xmas day go to movie and have Chinese food. We called it an ironical Jewish observance — when I was young Jewish people did go out to movies and Chinese restaurants for Xmas Day. And Boxing Day we’d go to museum. No need to be happy, just pleasant, courteous, if possible seem cheerful. Caroline entered into the spirit of the endeavor. And we did keep this up more or less for about 12 years.
And we certainly had a successful way of getting through New Year’s. We’d buy tickets to a show at the Kennedy Center. Woolley Mammoth was there for a number of years and it was dead cheap, and we did spend too much for 3 years. But then we had the right to go into the great hall at 11 and dance the night away with a rock-and-roll or some modern band on one side and a small orchestra doing Strauss waltzes (alternatively) on the other. How I will get through that night and day this year I know not.
I’ve said that my GPS system in my car no longer works right: there is no voice, no sound. A map and at the bottom a pictured silent direction. I went to the dealership and one guy claimed to have fixed it so the sound will come on. But there is no voice, and today Yvette and I spent over an hour and a half finding an ice-skating rink in DC where there was a worthwhile event to see: a competition among choreographers. She got her i-phone to produce directions; Caroline said mine had a voice GPS and herself produced it; but Yvette and I couldn’t manage to even bring up the GPS from google maps on our own, let alone make it speak. We returned to my house and I printed out a Google map from my computer at home. We managed to find it by leaving huge amounts of time, getting close and keeping our aim at DC. Without a voice to direct you at crucial points — like which pair of lanes on either side of a concrete divider where both are the same highway you should get into — you are soon far away from the exit the map tells you to get off at. When I saw Yvette would not try to go home, my aim became to avoid Maryland, and hers to follow the silent blue arrow on a blue line on our car google map silent at it was. At the bottom it also has the name of the next street to turn at and the name of the street you should be on with arrows to left and right (depending which turn you are to take). Finally we were in southeast DC. Then I stopped in gas stations and anywhere else there seemed to be reasonable people to ask local people where the Dupont Ice-Skating Rink is? And again a kindly black man took it upon himself to give me explicit pictured directions. I was to look for this store, for that sign, and so on. And so we got there.
So Izzy and I vowed to depend upon our will — we did get there, but only because she was determined. Lots of dangerous swerving and sitting on these islands of painted diagonals as the cars whizzed by us as we thought how to retrieve our position.
From the sublime to the ridiculous. How can I buy another GPS when the DVD I bought has caused me such trouble.
I did make the mistake of buying a multi-system multi-region DVD and it doesn’t work right — it plays European and British DVDS only (not multi-system) and to get one’s money back from Amazon is a trial. It works sort of. We (she and I) are again out of our depth. I did not get rid of my DVD player which plays American DVDs. So now I have both and I can unplug and replug each machine as needed. If my vlc viewer on my computer should become obsolete, I have an alternative — I own many British DVDs and without the Admiral if my vlc viewer becomes obsolete, I would simply lose all ability to play those. But our struggles with this machine became part of the endurance trials of existence without him.
I keep making these mistakes. My dishwasher has ceased to work right at all. It won’t even circulate the soap. When he was alive we tried to replace it but could not find anyone willing to install it for less than $1800. What to do?
Yvette called it a “rough week.” I have ever thought the public insistence on how happy all is a cruel enforcement of a mask. (See my blog on Philomena — an anti-thanksgiving movie?)
So that he’s not here has made even Thanksgiving important because we have such a struggle to get on without him and on top of that everywhere we look — on the Net is one — all these people are asserting how happy it is all, and you see these photos of groups of people smiling together. Had he been here and well, he’d have driven to the ice-skating rink and we’d have made our way back if we could — only I realize now he’d have probably had to pick us up. The way there by public transportation is two trains by metro and then a bus that runs once an hour.
The cats miss the Admiral too. When she and I go for a week to be at an ice-skating event in Boston between January 5th and 13th, and they are left alone in the house with only visits from Caroline, Clary will have some sort of nervous collapse on and off.
We had been invited by a kind soul to join in their Thanksgiving: Carline’s mother-in-law whose husband is another of the millions of people victimized by the spread of cancer. We would become part of her family: Caroline, and Rob, and her daughter, and son-in-law and grandchildren. Her husband was having his chemotherapy two days before the Thursday and it was discovered his red blood cell count was frighteningly low. Chemotherapy kills red blood cells. He had to be hospitalized. I did have a beloved young friend Thao, and her partner come for dinner on Friday night (my birthday); Yvette and I decided we should not have so focused on that, though the good time was had.
Meanwhile we make these dream-travel plans. Fall 2014 Montreal for the JASNA. Next summer after this go to England and scatter his ashes. In 2016 Australia and New Zealand (a Trollopian trip). Is it realistic to think of NYC for her and Caroline for a US open? for me to go with a friend to country music weekends? more academic conferences? Hard to say. Will we have the money? There I go, not content to stay within my strength and ability. I must learn to do so and remember the old fideist maxim of Pascal.