Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 61.
As close as I was to her, it pales in comparison to the connection she had with my dad. She was his…everything, and today — the first birthday since her death — is especially hard.
To honor her memory, I’m going to leave you all with a Facebook post he wrote for her earlier today.
Today would have been her sixty-first birthday. Stupid-head here actually forgot her birthday one year. Two days later, we had both just arrived home from work … “Weeb, you forgot my birthday!” Up until her death, it was the worse day of my life! I suddenly felt like nothing, everything inside of me …thoughts … feelings … guts … just flushed right out of me, leaving my whole body numb like I had just been given a massive dose of novacane, and my male-psyche most likely resembling a deflated rubber balloon. How could I have been so forgetful? What could have possibly been going on in my life at the time that would allow my wife’s birthday to come and go without even the most minute acknowledgement from her husband? I don’t know. What I do know is how terrible I felt — And immediately went out and purchased something for her I couldn’t even afford! But love, as they say, makes you do foolish things.
On behalf of my immediate family, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of you for your outpouring of compassion during our bereavement. Your prayers, your thoughtfulness, your responsiveness, your expressions of sympathy and comfort were most helpful and greatly appreciated.
In some circles of family, friends, co-workers and casual acquaintances I’ve often been accused of “always havin’ sumthin’ to say.” Translation: “Can you keep your mouth shut for just a sec, Weeb … Please? “ Instead of holding a conversation, I’m more prone to strangling it! But in this case there are no words in the English language, or, for that matter, in any language spoken on this good Earth, for me to use in an attempt to adequately express the enormity of my grief, or the depths of my sorrow at the loss of my forever lovely, vividly-vivacious Vivienne, my wholly and entirely devoted wife, my pretty baby, my absolute best friend and trusted soul mate, on Friday, October 18, 2013. Quite frankly, I never prepared myself for this, mentally or emotionally. There was a six-year difference in our ages. I just assumed like most other men that I would be the first to go. According to mortality tables it wasn’t supposed to be like this, right? She’s supposed to be “here,” right? I’m supposed to be “there,” right? She was the one who was supposed to grieve and then get along with her life without me, right? On the other hand, perhaps it’s best we live our lives with questions that remain unanswered.
Those who know me well enough, aside from describing me as having a motor-mouth (in a kind way), would also describe me as being unpretentious. There is no shame in my game. What you see is what you get. But what you see is the REAL me. That’s the REAL me you see waiting in the check-out line at the supermarket with tears flowing freely down his cheeks. That’s the REAL me you see driving down the interstate with his vision blurred by tears. That’s the REAL me you see standing outside in sub-zero temperatures feeding his CTS its weekly dose of fuel as his tears crystalize into thin icicles. That’s the REAL me stepping out of the shower every other morning with blood-red eyes, and not as a result of the soap getting into his eyes. That’s the REAL me you see sitting in the pews at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church weeping every Sunday morning. The Real me you see has to intermittently halt his Facebook browsing to remove the moisture from his laptop caused by free-flowing tears of sadness, loneliness … It really doesn’t take much to provoke them — the tears. I could be anywhere. It could be anytime. I could be doing anything. All it takes is a thought, a feeling, a memory, a photo, a sound, a scent, a song, an item of clothing … could be anything, and soon I’m overwhelmed with grief, crying, weeping and sobbing. Yes, I’ve even wailed. The spider on my wall could take the stand in a court of law, swear on a stack of bibles, and then testify under oath that he’s seen me several times in my living room, on the carpet, in a fetal position bawling uncontrollably like a newborn baby. “Yes, Your Honor, that was the REAL me curled up in a fetal position on his living room floor bawling like a newborn baby.” Kleenex now occupies a permanent slot on my shopping list along with the milk, the bread, the sugar, the Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, etc. To borrow an old lyric: In the last three months, “I’ve cried a river …”
The reason why my grief has been so deep, so overwhelming, is because, like the love one has for their beloved, it’s bottomless. It knows no bounds. This type of grieving due to the loss of one’s beloved is just love turned inside-out. The deeper the love; the deeper the grief. Again, no shame in my game. I ‘fess up. Until a recent telephone conversation with a dear family member, I had been haunted by “the look.” When she mentioned “the look” which she described as suddenly appearing on the face of her partner, my dear, departed cousin, the late, great Ron Hambrick , in his last days several years ago, as she tried to ensure his cleanliness by bathing him, that intense wordless gaze which tears up your heart and soul, that look which with brutal honesty your dying beloved, their entire body inundated by unfathomable pain, seems to ask you in no uncertain terms, “WTF are you doing?” And all I did was touch her. So, it wasn’t just me. I thought I was the ONLY one who had ever been the recipient of such a haunting gaze.
Again, no shame in my game … Since Vivienne’s death I have experienced several of the most horrible sleepless nights in my still-can’t-get-use-to-cold-bed. Alone with my thoughts, my feelings, my memories, tossing and turning, reaching out to that empty space which now seems so uncompromisingly cold, so vast, so uninhabited, so vacated, so devoid, so deserted in its barrenness, my mind has been infiltrated and fallen prey to the very strong urge to jump out of bed, quickly dress, exit the house, get in my car, drive to the cemetery in the middle of the night, find Vivienne’s grave site, get down on my hands and knees, and start clawing at the boundary of the wet grass and muddy earth separating the two of us … with my fingernails! Just to check to see if she was okay. But, fortunately, someone — in the name of “Betty Jean” (one of my three sisters) — grabbed me, figuratively speaking, during a ‘phone conversation and pulled me away from the muddy gravesite with the most subtle of words of wisdom: “That’s NOT her, Weeb. That’s ONLY her remains, the body God gave her to walk this Earth for sixty years. Where is she? Well, she’s surely NOT “there.” She’s in your heart, Weeb, where she’ll never leave.” (Thank you, Sis!) Sage advice also came from a kind gentleman who suggested that I take the time to be sad, to weep, to sob, to wail, to be angry, to even scream if the grief overwhelms me; and to hold hands with sadness and loneliness. Love them into remission he said emphatically so that they don’t turn into depression.
Not for one iota of a second have I believed, or even thought that my situation is totally unique. The loss of a beloved is one of the most difficult things most people will experience in their lifetime. Bereavement includes not only grief, which is the feelings associated with loss, but also mourning, which is the process of healing and moving forward from a loss. I take consolation in knowing that others like myself have suffered through the loss of a beloved, and are still standing. However, again I must ‘fess up that in the wee hours of October 18, 2013, I didn’t seem to have the necessary amount of intestinal fortitude to continue to watch her agony being played out right in front of my eyes. In my backyard I humbled myself, dropped to my knees and —- No, I didn’t pray! I DEMANDED that He either bring my baby back to me, or take her away from me right then! I could no longer deal with watching her suffer. But in that same moment I realized how selfish it was of me to make such demands of God. I had overstepped my bounds. It wasn’t about me, and my well-being. The inevitable would occur, but in His time, not mine. God, forgive me.
Courage, as it’s been said, is grace under fire. In October of 2012 Vivienne was diagnosed with lung cancer and went into the fire. Well into her ordeal of chemo, and radiation treatments, and infections which led to periodic hospital stays, I had to look her in the eye and state that after 40 years of being as inseparable as Siamese twins I didn’t know that she had such formidable courage. Her courage under fire, her grace, was indeed impressive. Not only to me but our family, our friends, the hospital and hospice staff members, the nurses, the doctors … all who came into contact with her during her courageous battle were indeed impressed with the way she handled herself with such shining grace. Quite frankly I’d lay my head down every night and wonder if the circumstances were reversed, could I handle myself as well as she demonstrated.
I’ve accepted the fact that there is no timetable for grief. Days, weeks, months, years are meaningless. I’ve also accepted the fact that throughout my bereavement journey I’ll continue to experience strong emotions. I know already beforehand that there will be days when I’ll feel intense sadness, loneliness, weariness, and irritability. I don’t think a person ever completely gets over the loss of a beloved. “Closure” need not apply to accompany me on my journey. Time DOESN’T heal ALL wounds. There are some losses you never get over (just ask John Madden). Though she’ll live in my broken heart for the remainder of my life, I’ll still never get over the loss of my precious Vivienne. If I accept the fact that there is no timetable for grief than I must also accept the fact that as days, weeks, months and years pass my grief reactions will become less and less intense. I also possess great confidence in My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will surely, as promised, help me and support me on this journey along with my family, good friends and church family. Broken heart and all, I’ll still get along. I know she would want me to. I’ll continue to speak highly of her, and I’ll speak to her, as well. I’ll still have fun times with family and friends. I’ll dance at my son’s wedding in July. Just forgive my limp. I’ll be missing my dance partner, that’s all.
It’s her birthday! I’d be grossly remiss if on her birthday I didn’t say: Some would call it luck. Just plain, old, and ordinary dumb luck. I would much prefer to call it a blessing. A blessing in the sense that Love found ME! I didn’t find Love. Love found me in the form of a Nubian princess named “Vivienne” who leaped forth into my heart and took up permanent residence on October 6, 1973. We met on a blind date, proving that true love only comes with the right person, not before. Luck really had nothing to do with it. Beginning on that cool and clear October night we became inseparable for the next four decades, almost to the day. Beyond the day, actually. Beginning on that October night, it was her, only her I desired. My head ached and my eyes narrowed with the intensity of my gazing at her shapely form. Violins and lit candles revolved in the sky. All “the bombs bursting in air” was not a Zambelli’s fireworks display originating from “The Point” in downtown Pittsburgh.
Love is a word that has as many definitions as there are people to define it. There are indeed different varieties of love. It can be altered; there are all the complexities of love. There is the desperate, almost pathetic quest by many for someone to love them and for that someone to love them in return, hopefully. There is Puppy Love … Infatuation. As was our case, there is love that comes under unexpected circumstances. There is the kind of love most of us view as the model — all- forgiving, undemanding, all-embracing, and yet even this kind of love may not be ideal. Love is indeed a “many-splendored thing,” encompassing an area of surprises, failures, successes, dejection, rejection, dreams deferred and tangled motivations as well. Regardless of one’s definition of love, True Love, The Real Thing, doesn’t find everybody. Every dog DOESN’T have its day — especially if there are more dogs than days, you dig. True Love DOESN’T find everybody, but It found me forty years ago, and I wasn’t even looking for it. The Real Thing found me, and Lady Luck had nothing to do with it. Like I said, “True Love, The Real Thing, doesn’t find everybody.” I wasn’t lost, but I definitely was found! The Lord shined His light upon me. There is no other explanation. Lucky? No, I was blessed … abundantly blessed … truly blessed … greatly favored … highly regarded. I believe with every fiber of my being, factually speaking, I am left with no other choice except to believe, based on my life experience shared with Vivienne over a period of forty years and seven Presidents that the love we shared was an act ordained by the will of God. I believe our great love affair was ordained, our names already written in The Book long before we were even conceived. Lady Luck had nothing to do with our paths crisscrossing on a blind date, then fusing together to become one, of which I am truly thankful.
Paul Lawrence Dunbar, renowned poet, described Life as being “a pint of joy to a peck of trouble.” Through all our trials and tribulations our love remained strong and vibrant all the way to the end. I found such delightful compensation in how our joy always seemed sweeter because of the care and caring that came after each ordeal. In those last days, during one very emotional conversation, I begged for her forgiveness. I asked her to please forgive me for all the times when I was mean and spiteful for no justifiable reason … irresponsible … just a total and complete a@#hole, among my many other shortcomings and failings too numerous to list. Her response: “But you have to forgive me, too, Weeb.” Well, this short exchange sort of summed up our 40-year relationship: Two imperfect beings in a perfect union. Oh Lord, I loved her so much. If all the trouble in the world would have come down on our heads because of it, I would have welcomed it.
I missed her yesterday. I’ll miss her today. I’ll miss her tomorrow. I will miss, and keep close to my heart, her sense of ambitious personal responsibility to our children, grandchildren, family and friends which added more authenticity to her high aesthetic aims. Even when the clouds are dark grey and gloomy above, I will still remember with elation the profound, unmistakable, iron-like certainty of her love and devotion to me. Her soft embrace was all-encompassing and absolute. She made me feel very proud to be a man. She celebrated my manhood as much as I exalted and glorified her womanhood. She made me feel important, renowned, worthy of her unconditional love and devotion. She accepted me and all my shortcomings. She allowed me to be me without insisting that I meet her expectations. I will forever keep dear to my heart how she could NEVER displease me, because she ALWAYS pleased me just being the beautiful woman that she was. For forty years, within the Young Family, with chin held high, she carried the moniker of “Legs.” The shapeliest of legs which themselves BEGGED for stilettos! I will miss the jingle and jangle of the silver bracelets which were only EVER removed before going through a security checkpoint, or a hospital stay. I will miss her girlish giggle, the jiggle in her wiggle, and the wiggle in her jiggle, too — she could really strut her stuff! I will miss her ultra-feminine grace, and her keen sense of elegant fashion and style.
Mostly, Baby, I will miss the Real Thing we shared, the love that was so deep down inside it quite simply could never be denied, a love that absorbed my entire sense of self, my whole soul and reason for living, for existing.
Happy Birthday, Baby! We miss you, madly!