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 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.