Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – The Horrible, Beautiful Gift

To this day, almost twenty-three months after Rob’s suicide, I still can’t fathom the horror of it. It’s unimaginable yet I re-imagine it regularly. It’s unspeakable but I want to talk about it. It’s unthinkable yet here I am…

In 2003 one of my employees killed himself. He chose to end his life by carbon monoxide poisoning in his parents’ garage the Friday before Mother’s Day. His coworkers and friends were devastated. I worked with this incredibly talented, thoughtful artist for years so I felt like I knew him, but I wouldn’t say that I knew him well. He was much younger and much cooler than I was, and I was his boss, so I’m sure he had some strong opinions of me that varied from one day to the next. But I was wrecked by his death. It was months of grieving the loss of him, the sadness over his final act. At the time I remember thinking, If I’m this affected, I cannot imagine how obliterated his parents, his sister, his girlfriend, his close friends are.

Rob’s horrific death feels surreal. And it feels a million miles away. My life has moved on. My life will continue to distance itself from that life that I had with him, and away from his memory. It is what it is; I can’t hold on to him and move forward at the same time. It doesn’t diminish his life, our marriage, our love for each other, or his great big heart. It just allows me to continue living, which is what he wanted. And it’s what I want.

20140426_171257-1I knew even right after he died that I wasn’t going to stay in my grief forever. I knew that I couldn’t allow his death to be the end of my story, or serve as the downward catalyst for my life. It had to make me better. My life had to get better. I had to do whatever I could to make it true. I had to stuff my grief deep down inside; thanks to an incredible therapist I was able to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Sounds simple. It really was, but that’s not to say that I wasn’t a wreck or hell to deal with. I’m me after all…

I call his illness and ultimately his death a horrible, beautiful gift that I’ve been given. It’s a gift I never, ever wanted and one that I wouldn’t choose for me or wish upon anyone else. The gift is that I know what’s important now. For the most part, I no longer am affected by the mundane irritations of life. He taught me some of that when we were together, but when he got sick and I only wanted him well and happy and home with me, everything else melted away. No one’s opinions mattered, none of the disagreements with others mattered, and I knew without reservation that relationships were important, people were important.

I feel free in some respects. To repeat, I would NEVER choose this path. I would bring him back in an instant and go back to sweating the small stuff if it meant he’d still be walking among us, sharing his incredible humor and intellect. But I’ve got to leave the past behind. I can’t think about what I would do if I could. I have to think about what I will do, what I can do.

But of course I miss him. I always will. The way he kissed me at every stoplight, the way he held my car door open for me, the way he knew what I was hungry for without me having to tell him, the way he called me “babydoll,” the way he tucked me in every night, just the way he loved me.

He was my biggest cheerleader. He knew I could do anything. And I believe it too.

 

Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – Love Lessons Learned

*NOTE: I wrote this several months ago but chose not to publish it. Now, seven months later, and in an even better head space, I feel free to share. It’s been edited slightly from its original form but the meat is the same: love that is anything but unconditional is not love. Be good to each other, friends.

I’ve been asked to write about what’s happening as the first-year anniversary of my husband’s death approaches. I think I would have anyway, but finding a pathway to rational or non-whiny thoughts doesn’t come easily since Rob left my side.

As November 7th approaches I am reminded of how life changed in an instant and how, even though I hate it, I have somehow managed to move forward when all I wanted to do was to stand still AKA lie down and die. Don’t misunderstand me, I never thought of “joining” Rob in death, but it took a hot moment to remember that he wasn’t the only reason I have for living. And as a non-religious person, I am acutely aware that he’s gone. Gone-gone, not waiting for me in another life. He’s ceased to exist, turned to ash and sitting in a box on the table next to me. The only parts of him that still remain are what we all remember of him, what we choose to share in an effort to keep his memory alive and physical items that I continue to sift through.

People ask me if I can “feel” him around me. And even though I do speak to him as if he’s still here from time to time, the answer is always a quick and decisive “No.” Rob died on November 7, 2017. He put a gun to his head and ended his pain, his life, his existence.

In his medicated stupor, he believed that he had done irreparable harm to me and my life and he wanted to spare me any more pain. I still remember the look of despair he displayed when his parents told him that I was no longer a welcome member of their family. The blow-up between his mother and me had occurred while Rob was experiencing a psychotic break. It wasn’t until Rob returned home that he became aware of the drama they had caused by attempting to control his medical situation from a half-dozen states away. The additional stress, pain and accusations they served up while I was doing my level best to care for him in his most dire time of need would have been unbearable had it not been for my focus on him, and the support of my family and friends. And at the end of it all, when they told him that they would not “help” him if he continued to be married to me, Rob cried. And I was dumbfounded, exhausted and further heartbroken on his behalf. NOTHING that he or I ever did was good enough to satiate their desire to judge, to berate, to belittle, to shittify and to generally pour pissiness on our lives.

It was all done with the “best intentions” you know. They would pose their questions about our lives from a position of genuine care or concern, but then turn any information we gave them around after they added their own ignorant spin on things. For example, Rob was a consultant. His work life before meeting me was one where he worked six months out of the year and took the other six off; his income allowed it and his lifestyle as a confirmed bachelor worked well in that realm. And then he met me and wanted to stay put, didn’t want to be on the road six months of the year. So he tried to work “regular” jobs with a salary and two weeks off a year and set office hours on-site. He tried time and again but it didn’t suit him. So he would leave a “regular” job for another contract and hit the road over and over. Their position? “You can’t hold a job.” I knew he was struggling to figure out how to work his career in our new life. I knew the pain he felt at knowing his parents would consider him a failure yet again.

When I would try to bridge the gap between their judgment and his hurt, I was met with hateful nastiness. They scoffed when I would tear up. They flat-out refused to discuss anything other than why they were disappointed in his career, me, his weight, his day-to-day decisions, his everything. He told me in the beginning, “I always knew my mother would behave this way,” referring to her attitude towards me. “It has nothing to do with you, babydoll,” he’d say.

I grew up with both sets of my parents’ parents holding court at every family event. They attended each others’ holiday gatherings, and they genuinely loved and cared about my parents. Both of them.

I just always thought that’s the way it was; you join a family and you love them and they love you. Considering I had done nothing but love Rob since the day we met, I just couldn’t understand what else they thought was important to expect of me.

Over the course of Rob’s and my marriage, I tried on several occasions to take the high road, go the extra mile, communicate with them more, etc. But none of it made a difference in the end. When Rob got sick and I pleaded with his mom to get on a plane to be with him, she said she wouldn’t be taking advice from me because I was no “mother of the year.” I remember her saying that as clear as day and at that exact moment I thought, “Good God, she doesn’t even know me.” Aside from loving Rob, if there’s one thing in this world I’m great at it is being a mom. Her ignorant comment was a gift to me; it freed me from feeling any more need to be accepted or understood by her.

I told his mother that day that I felt sorry for Rob. Her response was, “So do I, because he has to be married to you.”

So where does that leave me now that Rob’s gone? One year on, what does any of this mean? In hindsight, what can be learned from this relative to his parents?

Well, I guess it means that none of it means anything. It means that parents are without a son, a wife is without her husband, a young man is without his step-father and many people are left without a friend. And all for what? Because he couldn’t be controlled? Because he represented their failure to parent? Because he didn’t represent their values? (Ironic but I might talk about that another day.)

I’m reminded of a conversation Rob had with the intake professionals at Tri-County Health here in Kansas City right after his breakdown. When asked about what he wanted from his parents that he didn’t feel like he got, he responded, “Acceptance.”

So in continuing my life, I will take the knowledge that to love someone is to accept them. No conditions, no expectations.

Many of my friends have asked, begged, demanded, pleaded for Rob’s parents’ contact information in the wake of his death. God love them, they want to stick up for Rob, for me, for Jesse, for all of us who loved him and knew him. But I won’t give in. The last thing I’ve wanted to do is to add to their grief even though I love the idea of someone championing us. The fact is that the McNeeces would never listen. As much as I think a normal parent would feel guilt and shame, I don’t think they’re capable.

You know, they didn’t even attend Rob’s celebration of life here. So many people came to show their love for him and support for me; they missed out on so much by skipping it. They chose instead to have their own “family-only” ceremony on the East Coast and they didn’t invite me. I arranged to have some of his ashes sent to them because I felt it was the right thing to do but…

Isn’t it all so sad?

UPDATE TO Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – Exposing Twitter Trolls and Class-A A-holes

When my husband died, I felt like my brain died too.

Rob had a photographic memory, and vast capacity for storing it all.

Since his death, I’ve been in a fog. They say it could last a year, two years, who knows. I just know that my brainpower isn’t what it once was, even before Rob came into my life almost 14 years ago.

I’ve kept his computer on and his tabs up, basically as he had them the day he killed himself. As a matter of fact, I’ve kept much of his office the same. I can’t bear to change it completely for fear that the memories associated with the layout will leave me. Isn’t that strange?

But I digress. The point is that I’m not quite there yet, and I would guess that I can look forward to a lifetime of stumbling upon tidbits of Rob, thankful for the reminders but also sad for what was lost.

I came across one such item last week that sparked my interest.

This was a conversation he and I had on August 28, 2017. I had completely forgotten about it.

Louise Mensch was duped, my husband called her out on it and she attacked him.

everything just came together btw. i love you https://twitter.com/akula_51/status/xxx It did? i do believe so https://twitter.com/akula_51/status/xxx the sources feeding info to louise and her crew – which was driving a whole bunch of trumprussia – were driven by – get this – a hoaxer. Hell yeah. And you brought it to her attention? i figured out it was a hoax a while back and she attacked me yeah (thumbs up) i have tweets of her accusing me of being an active agent of russian intelligence

So now I know why she was so vicious towards him. He called her on bad intel. Isn’t that ironic, considering her “intel” after Rob died? You know, the bit about everyone else being to blame for his suicide but her?

What a world.

 

 

Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – Ground Zero AKA “AR00”

I share the following details not because I think people are interested in them. Rather, I need to document this day for my own sanity. When I started writing today, I had planned on a completely different focus. But this is where my mind ended up. So we’ll just let it ride.

The day the unspeakable happened, I was running a few minutes late in getting out of work. My boss and I had a meeting that butted right up to the end of my work day. At 4:29 pm I sent a text to my husband, expecting that he was already waiting for my exit from the building. “Few mins” was my message. No reply was needed but not receiving one was not the usual. I didn’t think too much of it. At 4:41 I walked out of my building and Rob was not in his usual pick-up spot, right up front. A few more messages went out with nary a reply.

I kept it cool at first. It wasn’t until I learned that he hadn’t shown up for work that day that I panicked.

Upon learning this, I called my mother, 10 miles up the road, and she was in her car and headed towards me within seconds. We both knew something was horribly, horribly wrong. I paced outside in the 35-degree cold until she got to me. She picked me up in a whirlwind and we made a beeline to my home, where Rob’s and my shared truck was parked out front. Before mom even put her car in park, I jumped out and ran towards the house. Finding the door unlocked, I hurried in yelling for Rob.

From room to room I went, more frightened after discovering each one empty. After searching the entire house, I finally sat down in his desk chair and toggled his computer’s mouse. A document appeared before me where the words were incomprehensible but the meaning was clear.

Rob was preparing me for his exit. The phrase at the end that I recognized through the dread told me he was gone: “inevitable outcome.” It was then that I called the police.

While waiting for them, I called my son across the state, Rob’s parents in Florida, my dad 60 miles away, and several close friends scattered throughout the US. “I don’t know where he is but he’s done something,” I repeated again and again, “He could have stepped in front of a train for all I know.” The news was met with horror and surprise. How could this be happening?

After 20 or 30 minutes, I called the police department again. They said someone was on their way.

Sgt. Smithmeier showed up and asked the usual questions: When was the last time I saw him? Had he ever done anything like this before? What makes me think he’s done something drastic? Did he leave a note? – All easy questions. The hard one was: “Where is he?”

He walked throughout the house with me and after a few more casual questions asked me if I had a shed out back. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had mouthed that question to him behind my back, as she knew it was the only place I hadn’t looked on the property. According to her, she had been hopeful that I wouldn’t go look out there; she panicked at every door I flung open as it was. But back to the question. “Um, yes,” I remember barely saying aloud, “there’s a shed.” “Is there a lock and key or would it be open?” Sgt. Smithmeier asked. “Huh? Oh, yeah…,” I said as I moved toward my grandmother’s oak buffet, “there’s a key to the lock in here.” I opened the top left drawer and looked in the front of the right side, where the shed key, attached to one of those cheap aluminum bottle openers, was always found. But the key wasn’t there. “Oh,” I said dreamily, “it’s usually right here…” And I tried to play it cool. But I knew.

Sgt. Smithmeier headed out the back door, suggesting politely but firmly that I stay behind. I stayed seated in my living room. I couldn’t see him as he approached the back door again, but I could see my mother’s face, at first hopeful and then crestfallen. Sgt. Smithmeier came in, not meeting my gaze, and asked me what clothing Rob would have been wearing. “Gosh, ummm,” I recalled, “Something dark, a dark t-shirt and dark sweatpants maybe, maybe his leather coat?”

And the news followed from out of the mouth of Sgt. Smithmeier: “Then I am so sorry to have to inform you, but your husband is deceased. He’s out there.” I don’t remember the exact words he spoke. I just knew that my Mr. Wonderful was gone forever. And I remember nodding as I stared at Sgt. Smithmeier’s mouth speaking the words to me. Somehow that made it easier to focus on what he was saying? I don’t know…

At this point, my mother and I got on our phones and called family and friends. My son was driving on the highway when I told him that Rob had killed himself. I had to tell him to pull over; I was afraid he was going to get in a wreck. I’ve never heard him cry like that. He and his girlfriend were quickly on the way from St. Louis. They would arrive four hours later.

I had called Rob’s parents when he was missing but when my mother offered to call them with the news of his death, I agreed. They had recently placed an ultimatum before Rob: their help and their money or me, so at the very moment I learned of his death I had no intention of speaking to them ever again. Their actions suggest that they agree with that plan, but that’s a story for another day.

Several more police officers filtered through the house in the coming hours, and by that time my dad had arrived. I sat somewhat catatonic throughout further questioning from the Coroner’s office, answering but kind of floating above everything mentally. I stayed in that floaty state for several weeks.

To be continued…

Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful – Grandma’s Reminder

I’ve been told that journaling might be a good outlet for me. Because this blog already exists for me to vent, I’ll just park those rants right here. My husband built this blog (and many other websites) for me. Thanks, baby, for giving me an audience.

My husband committed suicide on November 7 of last year and although I appear to be functioning, I feel as far from that statement as is possible.

I go to work, I take care of my dogs, I pay the bills, I return some phone calls. I make my bed, I brush my teeth, I fuel the car, I cook, I clean… But I’m not really here.

Sleep is elusive. Connections with people are difficult. I desperately want attention but don’t want people fawning over the widow.

In short, I’m a little lost.

I’m going to start off this blog series, Chapter III: Life Beyond Mr. Wonderful, with an article I wrote about my grandmother back in late 2004 or 2005. I wrote it when I was with a small publishing company in St. Louis.

It serves to provide me with a reminder of what my role is in life going forward. (I hope.)

2004 will go down in the story of my life as the year that I sat up and took notice of the little things.

My grandmother died this past Spring. My mother’s mother, she was 75, and had battled cancer for almost 20 years. She was opinionated, sweet, wise, and always upbeat and fun. She took pleasure in the little things, and never asked for approval from anyone. She approved of herself, and people respected her for that.

Up until two weeks before her death, she traveled extensively. Her last trip was with a group from her church and I remember talking to her about whether or not she should go. She said she just didn’t think she was up to it. We all knew she was dying; she had been in poor shape for months. But I encouraged her to take the trip. “Grandma, if you’re going to feel icky, do it somewhere with a view.”

She relented, and went on that trip with her friends. At her funeral, her church friends remembered aloud how much fun they had with her on that and other trips, and they shared stories about her fearlessness. They all knew that she didn’t feel well on that last trip, and admired her for smiling and laughing with them nonetheless. She would never dream of complaining; she would say that she was lucky to get to go at all. At her funeral, someone asked my mother if there were any of grandma’s grandchildren who were “like her”. I almost burst into tears when my mother replied that I was took after grandma most. What a compliment, and what an incredible legacy.

Since her death, I have been decidedly free-wheeling. I’ve traveled more, I’ve laughed more, I’ve loved more, I’ve lived more. It didn’t necessarily take losing her to make me re-think my life, but I have re-evaluated how I view things. If she were here she’d say how that’s “just part of it.” She’d smile at me in her knowing way, and I’d feel silly for questioning an experience that has made me a better person.

Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding day, 1947

I’ve met someone, and it makes me sad that she will never get to meet him. She and I used to compare notes about dating, as she was widowed more than ten years ago. She and I had a decidedly similar view of dealings with the opposite sex: stay around till I get sick of you, then go away till I tell you to come back. Her stories about the man who tried to bully her into a relationship with him made me laugh and laugh. As I listened to her recount yet another way he had aggravated her, I could relate, and we would giggle about it together. Bullying me has never worked either.

If she were here now, I would tell her, “I’ve finally met him.” She’d smile, like she always did when she expected she knew what she was going to hear, and then she’d say, “Tell me all about him.” She’d then sit, lean in, and ask all the cutely worded questions like, “How dreamy is he?” It was times like these that she would tell me stories about my grandpa, like what a great kisser she thought he was. I imagine I have that same dreamy look in my eyes when I talk about my “him” just like she did when she talked about hers.

I rest in the knowledge that she’s “looking at me from the clouds,” like she explained to my 10-year-old son that she would. Although I’ll never get to tell her, she knows, and she’s giving me her trademark, knowing smile, like she expected it all along.

Photos Found In Missouri Are Heading Home

Busy day yesterday! I made the trek to Richmond, Missouri and on to Lexington, Missouri to check out the antiques and thrifting scene. I was so happy I went because, especially in Lexington, the antiquing was great! The day was beautiful and the town very picturesque.

Downtown Lexington Missouri

Downtown Lexington Missouri

Lexington Missouri Courthouse

Courthouse at Lexington, Missouri

I was thrilled to find, in two different antique stores, several photos with names attributed to them for reasonable prices.

I spent most of last night sending out emails to folks associated with some of them and today has me responding with the images. A super-great day for genealogy!

image

Antique Family Photos Return Home

I might be a little weird. I get a charge out of buying old attributed photos and finding their family members to share them with.

I don’t pay much for the photos, I’d say never more than $5 each. Since I’m a member of Ancestry.com, I’m able to take the information presented – usually just a name and location – and start digging for a match. Men are easier to track down because we women like to change our names to match our husbands’, but I’ve found some of the women too.

Belle and Lulu Driskell caught my eye at an antique store on a business trip to Iowa. They were so naturally beautiful and the information on the back of the cabinet card photo was more than enough to track them down. Their married names were included, the city the photo was taken in was included, the date it was taken was even noted! I ended up getting in touch with someone who had posted their family tree on Ancestry and they were so excited. They said they had never seen photos of the sisters before, so I was doubly excited to share them. Isn’t Lulu gorgeous?

Belle and Lulu Driskell 1884

Belle Driskell Bates and Lulu Driskell Haywood 1884

I always offer to email the image to the family for no charge but if they want to buy the original they need to reimburse me. Most of the time they just want the scanned image, which is fine too!

Mr. Meldahl just found his home this week, thanks again to Ancestry. It was also pretty easy to find him because his name is unusual, the city name is there and if I needed to dig really deep, I could find out when the photographers were in business in order to determine when the picture was taken, but I didn’t have to go that far.

Frank Meldahl

Cabinet Card of Frank Meldahl by Cadwallader and Loomis – Cor Market & 7th Sts. Parkersburg, W VA. All negatives preserved. Duplicates may be had at any time. Cadwallader & Loomis, The Photographers, 627 Market Street, above B. and O.R.R. Bridge, Parkersburg, W. Va.

Mr. & Mrs. Sproul were a little more difficult but not very. With the added “Mother Perkins” reference on the back of Mrs. Sproul’s photo, I was able to pinpoint a potential family. Just moments ago I emailed the images to a family member. Even without the location, it was a doable endeavor to track their family down.

Mrs Sproul

Mrs. Sproul raised Mother Perkins

Mr Sproul

Mr. Sproul

The Blackmans were SO EASY. I mean, check out the information detailed on the back! I had everything I need to find, verify and get in touch with their people quickly, and I sent off the image within a day of finding the family.

Mary Elizabeth Billings Blackman wedding photo

Mary Elizabeth Billings Blackman wedding photo

Charles Morris Blackman wedding photo

Charles Morris Blackman wedding photo

I’m still waiting to hear back on another batch of photos and some I fear I’ll never match to interested parties, but it’s fun to try. And I guess I’m hoping if someone ever comes across my family photos, they’ll take the time to find me too. 🙂