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?

Chapter III: Life After Mr. Wonderful: Reflecting on What I Couldn’t Make Up For (His Parents)

It’s been over seven months. My Mr. Wonderful exited this world on November 7, 2017 and I have been in a semi-productive, semi-coherent, semi-realistic state since. I wish I could explain my thought process and where I’m at in my grief, but I really just can’t. I simply exist.

I remember. I continue. I grieve.

Almost nothing about my life since my husband killed himself is the same. There are moments, moments when I recognize my actions as those uniquely mine, when I remember who I was before I met him. And there are moments when I reflect upon who I’ve become, who is very different from the person I was when he and I first met.

I like to think, and believe it to be true, that the person Rob fell in love with back in 2004 is more closely aligned with who I am today, more so than the person I was after we met and up until his death. This truth makes me sad and proud at the same time because it reminds me of what I’m capable of but also what I lost for so many years.

I am and always have been comfortable with the idea that my situation is largely dependent upon me. I never could and would not rely on someone else to make my future. Hence, when I was a single mother at 24 I went back to college and busted my ass to make sure that a) I met my own criteria for success and b) my young son saw me do it.

After college I had a great career, one I earned with hard work and brain power. I had moved away from my hometown, which allowed me to earn my reputation (good or bad) on  my own merit instead of my family name. In my new surroundings and in my position I had risen to a role many would envy. It was at this point I decided that I was ready to meet my match.

And within a month I met Rob.

“From 35,000 feet I see a woman who  made her own way and is raising a great kid,” I remember Rob saying soon after we met. Full of confidence, I knew he was right. And I knew I was worthy of him.

And then life happened. I married him. I loved him without end. He traveled. I wanted to prove that his needs were paramount (something not easy when raising a son who deserved everything I had to give), and I made it work. When my son spent every other weekend at his dad’s house, I devoted my time to my husband, who traveled for work almost exclusively. Eventually I left my job, because (and I remember saying this time and again to friends who were curious), “When it comes to my career or my marriage, I choose my marriage.”

Conversely, I remember my mother reminding me that my future was my responsibility. “Take care of yourself, honey,” she said, “Make sure you’re protected.” I scoffed. “His future is my future,” I remember thinking.

Aside from my undying love and devotion, I felt like I could give Rob a sense of family, which was something he never had. His mother had lost her parents early and she didn’t get along with her mother-in-law. Their relationship was so contentious that Rob didn’t see his father’s mother for many years preceding her death in 2003. As a matter of fact, Rob nor Rob’s mother attended the funeral. This rift was fallout from Rob’s parents’ split and eventual reconciliation. His father’s mother was critical of his mother and when his parents got back together, she was out. Rob assumed it was a condition of their reconciliation. His father was an alcoholic and his mother put her foot down on many things. She’s been in charge ever since and God help us all for it.

So Rob never had the warm and cuddly grandmother figure that I was blessed with. And he never grew up with the understanding that family, even when they make you insanely crazy with hurt, are always there. At least in my case, I could always count on them, even if I was a giant shit (which I was on occasion). When he and I got together, I thought I could provide this kind of love and acceptance to Rob, but what I didn’t understand was that because of how he was raised, and by the people he was raised by, he wasn’t equipped to understand that level of love and understanding. In his world, if someone, even family, hurt you or made you uncomfortable, you excised them.

It always perplexed me, how Rob was so great at loving me and being an unconditional support for me, but he was unable to accept my family in the same way. This doesn’t apply to my son; Rob was so proud of him and never let an opportunity pass to brag about him. I loved him for that. But beyond my son and me (and our dogs), Rob couldn’t conceive of unconditional love.

Sadly enough, he never felt like he had that from his own parents.

I tried to discuss this with them on Rob’s and my last visit to their home a year before he died. They would hear nothing of it.

As a matter of fact, Rob’s mother used my emotional/teary state during that conversation as a means to berate me some time later. “Oh yeah, boo hoo,” she said, remembering my attempt at a conversation gone awry. I guess she thought my emotions relative to her son’s pain was a reason she could make fun of me. It broke my heart many times over. Her poor son.

In reviewing just what I’ve laid out here I am reminded of what allowing negativity into your life can do to even the most grateful soul. It stings. It infects. It remains.

I love my husband. I always will. But when I think about the negativity his parents brought into our lives, even from thousands of miles away, I am grateful to never have to see or hear from their sad and bitter asses again. Rob would be happy for me. He knew his parents were shitty people; we discussed it more times than either of us would have cared to admit. He tried so hard to distance himself but felt a sense of responsibility to continue trying to be the son they wanted. It was never going to happen.

When his parents told him, just weeks before he killed himself, that they wanted him to move “home” with them and that he wouldn’t ever have to work again or have any responsibilities BUT NOT IF HE CONTINUED TO BE MARRIED TO ME, it broke him to his core. He cried like I’ve never seen him cry before.

And we only ever loved each other. Without measure.

Never, in a million years, did I ever expect that when I found the love of my life – my first and only love at 34 years old – that his parents would hate me so completely and mercilessly. Why? When I only ever loved their son?

Did they expect me to fix him?

 

The Illustrious Football Career of Jim Cates – Kansas Koyotes Arena Football

I would love to give this a better introduction but my son really wants to show this video to his friends and I’m working to get it done for him quickly. (I’m that good of a mom, yes.)

My dad, Jim Cates, has a big mouth, and apparently a good kicking leg.

This is an opportunity borne of those two talents.

My dad is a hoot. Enjoy.

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…

Excelsior Springs Soda Jerk Sign

Talk about a step back in time! I found this lovely at a garage sale here in Liberty this morning. The house was half of a block from William Jewell College, and the home was a gorgeous Century home with three stories, each 1,000 square feet. The man having the sale said he was downsizing. He didn’t look all that happy to be selling, but he was friendly enough.

The sign came out of a diner in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He bought it when the place closed for good. But he couldn’t for the life of him remember what the name of it was. It drove him crazy, like it was on the tip of his tongue. So the mystery, for me, still exists. He probably remembered the name as soon as I drove away.

I love its simplicity. I love that it’s a little dirty and just a little beat up. I also love that there are tape marks over the .25 price for Malts & Shakes. And I love that this still exists! And that it’s still in Clay County! And that we know where it came from!

Garage sales are so cool. It’s finds like this that keep me going every week.

Excelsior Diner Sign.jpg

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. 🙂