No Serenity, Contemptible or Not, on this Anniversary

Today, April 13, would have been my 41st wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe it has been 41 years since I married the woman who would transform my life into one worth living. It’s harder, still, to believe she has been gone almost four months. And it’s damn near impossible to accept that she will never be back. I thought the worst of the pain of her death had finally become tolerable, but today and the last few days leading up to today have proven me wrong. These last several days generally have been fine but, suddenly, the pain I felt that awful evening she died returns; a hundred-fold more excruciating, it seems. A few minutes of impossibly intolerable misery later, I start to recover; I accept reality and work on regaining my composure. For a hour or two or three, all’s well; but the cycle starts all over again. I know this will diminish. As the day of our anniversary neared, time triggered the emotional deluges. The pain will dull over time and each anniversary and birthday and holiday and other day that holds some special meaning just for us will become a little more manageable with each passing year. Her birthday in June will honor her memory, though I suspect the “celebration” will again plunge me, for at least a few minutes, into darkness that will feel absolutely unbearable. But I will bear it and come out of the darkness into light. Each time, though, the light seems a little less bright, as if it is warning me of darkness to come. All of this pain and darkness is mine; it’s my pain that I feel, my selfish way of treating the circumstance as a petri dish to nourish my sadness. I should be thinking only of my wife; wishing she were enjoying a celebration of our lives together instead of allowing myself to wallow in self-pity.


Even though I enjoy getting out of the house, I am finding it increasingly easy to stay home all day. It is easy to avoid venturing out the get the mail, sometimes, until darkness begins to fall. I think that is a signal that I need solitude now more than ever. “A signal.” Nonsense. There are no “signals” that convey what is best for me; nor are there messages from the universe sent specifically to me to warn me against plowing into the unknown.  Strange; I sometimes interpret mistakes of time and circumstance as intentional communications from some unknown and unknowable “being” that pervades every molecule around me. It’s embarrassing even to allow such interpretations inside my head.


Early this morning, before 1:30, I awoke from another odd dream. Parts and pieces of a used jetliner had been changed out and installed in another airplane destined for New Zealand. After the flight returned to the U.S. (I guess…but not sure) but before the passengers deplaned, it had to cross some dangerously unstable bridges and get in front of other planes that had been waiting for a long time to get to the terminal. Later, interviews with angry passengers flooded television monitors in the terminal; the passengers did not care why the flight had to “cut in line,” they just wanted the money they paid for their flights refunded. There was more to the dream; I do not know what, though. I think it had to do with the plane’s airworthiness being questionable. But maybe not.


Last night, I attempted to listen to a member of my church tell of her “UU Journey;” that’s the story of how she came to abandon old religious beliefs and traditions in favor of becoming Unitarian Universalist. I should have planned better.  Had I done so, I would not have poured several whiskey-based drinks for myself, each one less precisely measured than the one before. By the time the program started at 8:00 p.m., I was not especially conscious and focused on religious journeys. At some point while I attempted to listen to the presentation in front of the computer screen, I drifted off to sleep. My guest awoke me and sent me off to my bedroom to sleep off my alcohol-induced nap. I think the program had ended by that time, but I am not sure. I’m glad my guest is not (at least not yet) overtly judgmental about my over-indulgence and consequent inebriation.

For whatever reason, I had been in the mood for a whiskey-based drink that also incorporated amaretto and lemon juice, a far cry from my usual glass of wine or gin & tonic or straight shot of whiskey. The amaretto and lemon juice cuts alcohol’s edge, making it easy to gulp down the ice-laden drink in no time. A few of those would (and did) knock me on my ass in a hurry. I suspect I was unconsciously preparing myself to acknowledge and to face today’s wedding anniversary. If that was the reason for my little binge, it failed miserably. I am not “prepared” for today, though I do acknowledge it. “Today” is not really the right word. It’s only 2:23 a.m. as I write these words. I may attempt to go back to bed. I still think of the daylight that remains several hours away as “tomorrow.” But, no, it’s really “today.” Darkness and light, as much as the assertions made by a clock, dictate whether it’s today or tomorrow at any given moment.

I hope last night’s “UU Journey” was recorded; otherwise, the time I spent listening to and viewing part of it was, indeed, wasted. I do not recall the last thing I heard, but I am confident it was not even remotely close to the end of the presentation. Time wasted, if I cannot listen to the entire thing.


Yesterday, I spent time working on taxes. I got as far as gathering income information in the form of 1099-type forms and compiling receipts for medical expenses and charitable contributions. The deeper I got into it, though, the more complex it seemed it would be. Among the documents my wife had placed in a massive accordion-style tax folder were articles from consumer magazines, tax advisories, and various other reliable sources. The articles, especially parts she had underlined or highlighted, suggested to me that my wife’s understanding of what we “ought” to be doing with respect to taxes is far more complex than I had imagined. So, after spending a significant part of the morning on taxes, I finally pulled a number out of my head (a few hundred dollars) as an estimate of how much we might owe in taxes for 2020. I went online to the IRS website and submitted an ACH withdrawal authorization for that amount. My understanding is that the submission that estimate takes the place of formally completing Form 4868 and gives me until October 15 to file my taxes. Supposedly, an extension by the IRS also extends my deadline for the State of Arkansas. If I’m right, within the next two or three months, I’ll make an appointment with a tax accountant and take my paperwork in for a professional assessment and filing. If nothing else, I will learn from it; I did not bother learning from my wife’s dedication of extensive time and effort to the tax monster. If I’m not right that my submission of money to the IRS automatically extends my filing deadline, I suppose you can find me engaged in a real-world diet as I dine on bread and water in the cell of a debtor’s prison.


I do not know whether I brought in the hummingbird feeders last night. I hope so. Otherwise, when light begins to leak from the sky several hours from now I might find the deck awash in sticky nectar and the feeders dashed and broken on the rocky slope beneath the deck. It’s too dark now to see whether the feeders are still hanging and it’s too early to say, regardless, whether they survived the night without being attacked by gluttonous raccoons. Apparently, there’s a correlation between consuming multiple whiskey-based mixed drinks and forgetting one’s actions with respect to tending to the well-being of hummingbirds.


I’ve done my best to push the reality of today’s milestone out of my head; my best is not good enough. Even after writing silly BS and trying to make IRS-related “stuff” funny or, at least, frivolous, grief consumes me. It’s around 3:00 a.m. Thought I’ll probably go back to bed and try to sleep, I doubt I’ll be able to clear my mind enough to make it happen. And I am not even sure I want to make it happen. If I were able to deal with this anniversary without pain and the accompanying tears I would find it impossible to live with myself. I might label the ability to maintain composure in the face of such heartache “contemptible serenity.” Yet, even thinking such thoughts, I feel compelled to try to maintain some measure of composure. My guest/friend who works from my dining table during “work hours” this week deserves a host who is more or less composed so she can carry on with her work without being interrupted by the wails of a widower.


Yesterday, as I was mindlessly scanning Facebook, a post on a friend’s page caused tears to come to my eyes (lately, though, what hasn’t?). I felt like she had posted it specifically for my benefit, though she often posts such thought-provoking things that evoke emotions across the entire spectrum of human emotions. If my friend had been in my presence when I saw her post, I would have hugged and kissed her for posting it and I probably wouldn’t have loosened my embrace for a very long time.

Grief never ends…
But it changes. It’s a passage,
not a place to stay. Grief is not
a sign of weakness, nor a lack
of faith…It is the price
of love.

~Donna VanLiere~

I keep reminding myself that grief does not—and will not—end. But I do hope it changes from what it is now to something easier to carry. Yet, as I consider the quotation, it makes me wonder whether the price of love is too great to allow me ever to love again. And, as I am wont to do, I muse some more about the quotation. While grief is not a sign of weakness, the inability to withstand it without breaking down may be. There must be a point at which uncontrollable sobs and tears cannot be permitted. Everyone deals with grief at one time or another. But not everyone repeatedly shatters into a million pieces when reminded of its presence.


I find it interesting that I really crave and need social interaction, but only in relatively small and moderately infrequent doses. Between those doses, I must have solitude, isolation, time alone…whatever terms apply. I cannot imagine spending much time with someone who needs much more social interaction than I; I suspect it would be almost intolerable. My uneducated guess is that many divorces are triggered by incompatible social needs between partners.

On the other hand, at the moment it’s nice having someone in the house with me; someone to talk to. Even when my guest is “on the clock,” she is able to engage in a bit of conversation from time to time. But, I have my own obligations, too, so I retreat to my study to carry out my responsibilities. Like taxes. (Arghh!) And I have to go to the post office to get mail and otherwise have errands to run, etc. So thus far I have been able to maintain an adequate amount of my precious solitude, even with a house guest.

Sometimes, online interactions can feel just as intrusive and overwhelming as spending time with a large group in a small space. I have to get away from the constant baiting and feedback. There are times when I must abandon online “conversations” even with people I truly enjoy, simply to maintain my appreciation for those people; too much engagement could bring about intense dislike, I think.  Looking at it from my perspective, it makes perfect sense. But then I start to wonder whether I am tolerable only in small doses to some (or many) people? Probably. And I can happily live with that, provided it is the “right” people who feel that way. But what if, for example, someone with whom I sense in myself a need for engagement and for whom I have considerable attraction puts me in the “tolerable, but only in small doses” category? It becomes a different animal entirely. Hmmm.


Time slips by at the speed of light. It’s after 4:00 now, yet I feel that I’ve been in front of my computer for only a few minutes. It may be an exercise in futility, but I am going to try to sleep again. Off I will go, gingerly plodding through the house so as to avoid waking my guest.


I don’t know who said this, but sometimes it doesn’t matter, does it? For me, food is the most irresistible of the temptations, as evidenced by my size, shape, and inability to find clothes that properly it.

I can resist everything but temptation.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to No Serenity, Contemptible or Not, on this Anniversary

  1. Thank you, Cheryl. You are kind. I hope you are right, but I am not sure.

  2. Hopester says:

    I don’t see your pain as self pity at all. I see it as grief. I think you’re being too hard on yourself my friend.

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