I hardly remember him…

Long, shaggy dog story short, I had to do some interesting emotional processing over the weekend. A great deal of this story isn’t known to most people. Folks were there for parts of it, but not all, and I haven’t really talked about the whole that much.

Background: going back 35+ years, I have a tendency to reinvent myself around June 1 every year. Consciously. Select things I don’t like and chuck them. Hobbies I’m not prioritizing. People that maybe are bad for my mental health.

Cleaning house. Annually. Just easier to take stock every year.

As a result (and a lot of trauma when I was younger), I don’t really have great memories of certain eras. And I mark my life in compact, easy-to-define eras. High School until 1986. College until 1989. Grad School Plus in SoCal 90-95. Places I lived in California. Leaving Cali in 95. Leaving KS for good in 97. Changing jobs and lives in Seattle. Buying the house in 2001. (1990-2001, I moved 17 times. Nuff said?)

So I am not kidding when I say that something was “so many me’s ago I barely remember him.” I might have simply buried the memories and moved on. I do that. Not generally a confrontational kind of guy, if I find it easier to just walk away. (That’s another story and a few beers to get out of me.)

Some folks get off on that emotional rush of confrontation.

If I get that angry, I’ll make people sorry. And I’ll hold grudges for decades. Folks can attest.

Neither here nor there.

Got tossed back in on myself last weekend and realized that I had things that needed to be processed. The guilty likely won’t read this, and I can’t make them any more enemies than they’ve already chosen to be.

We each of us get up in the morning and decide to be good. Or evil. Simple as that.

Background^2: Donna was diagnosed in July 2005 with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. The kind where you have six months to live, make your peace with God. That kind. Stubborn woman. She did surgery to stabilize the right femur that had been eaten. Then radiation. Didn’t cure it. Mostly stabilized things. Chemo after that, but in those days, it was a question of whether the chemo killed her first or the cancer. (They have since made enormous strides in research and treatment. She might have survived today. Nobody knows.)

She was a stubborn woman. I chose the half of a loaf that she would give me over none. We weren’t married, because she’s spent the better part of a decade telling me that she’d toss my ass out on the street if I even mentioned it. (And she would only move in with me in the first place because Washington state does not have common law marriage, mind you.)

One day, she looked at me. Sometime middle of 2007. (Told you, too stubborn. Six months wasn’t going to work for her.) Decided that maybe she wanted to get married after all, so she could be Mrs. Ward. Ya coulda knocked me over with a feather, but I eventually processed that, and we did the thing.

I had been largely ostracized by my side of the family. All three of her daughters and families accepted me, and I’ve talked to all of them recently, this many years later. The wedding was in June of 2008. Of everyone there, my best man was Perry. Her Maid of Honor was a woman she’d known since Jr. High. Everyone else were her extended family.

My side hardly had any commentary when they knew she was sick. Probably wise of them, because they didn’t like her. And I still made the better choice to tell them to get stuffed.

The doctors gave Donna six months in the summer of 2005. She died in July 2008.

On a Monday, it was functionally over. I called on my way home to say hi, like I did every day. Except that her oldest daughter answered instead and told me the news. They had given her enough morphine to kill the pain, and were counting the hours at that point.

I stayed up with her all night, but she was already gone mentally. Never really got that moment to say goodbye, but I held her all night. Passed out in the morning and her youngest took over the watch. She woke me and we confirmed that it was done. My wife was gone.

Donna made lists. First up was cremation. I have an urn in my bedroom that simple says “Lots” because that was always the answer to “How much do you love me?”

We held a wake on a Saturday a week and a half later, skipping the Saturday of the oldest granddaughter’s birthday. Each of the three girls got up and read their essay “Why Mom always loved me best” and it was good. Lots of tears. Lots of friends, both mine and hers. Even her oncologist came, which surprised me. But he was an amazing doctor.

Then she was gone.

I got up that Sunday morning and looked in the mirror, asking myself what the hell do I do with the rest of my life. At the time, I was 39. Widower. Three grown step-daughters, with the oldest only five months younger than me. (Did I mention Donna was twenty-one years older and still a total babe up to the end?)

This is where the processing starts. I’ve largely dealt with loss and recovery. But not anger.

I had told the entire family that I wasn’t going to a wedding in Kansas City that summer, because Donna was too sick to travel, and I didn’t want to be away from her. Not at the end.

The grumbles I got from those folks reminded me that they’d never any of them been nice to her. And that’s saying something. Only my mother was friendly. All she had asked was “Does she make you happy?” and left it at that.

But that Sunday, I started getting calls from folks that honest-to-fucking-God took the tone of “Well, you don’t have a reason not to come to the wedding now.” (One of them even said those words out loud to me.)

Not any of them called to say how sorry they were that I’d lost her. None of them came out for the wake. Or to check on me, all alone in that big house and wondering what the hell to do next.

I’d taken two days off work Tuesday and Wednesday, but then I was sitting around staring at walls. At least at work (a job where I’d been for all of four weeks), I could do something. Anything.

And I had an amazing boss. On Donna’s birthday that November, he instructed one of my peers, another department manager, to get me drunk at lunch on the company card and then make sure I made it back to the office to sober up. And she did. And I did.

When Fabulous Publisher Babe™ started meeting my family, my Mom was living out here in Seattle. I got her cataract surgeries, new hearing aids, and a place where she didn’t pay rent, so she could work to get herself out of a debt that rest of the family had browbeaten her into getting. I think at one point I had given her something like thirty thousand dollars, just because she would have been bankrupt and out on the street without me.

That was how my family treated her. My new wife finally understood a few years ago that we went beyond dysfunctional. Imagine me growing up around four narcissists. Bad ones. Vicious ones. Martyrs. The bad blood in my family is ugly and goes back four decades just with my siblings.

When Donna died, they didn’t any of them have anything useful to say. Instead, I got the massive guilt trip abuse to come to a wedding because I didn’t have any reason not to now.

I’ve talked to both of my sisters in 2021. One called because she was finalizing details of my mom’s estate after Terry died last November. The other called on my birthday.

That was an interesting event, because she was drunk. And continued drinking heavily for the hour we were on the phone. I doubt she even remembers it, because she was blackout when we were done. But I got to listen to an hour of her ugly vitriol and gossip about the rest of the family and how much they all hate me. With details I’d never heard before.

Not surprised. I chose to be happy. None of them even understand how.

Haven’t talked to my father in several years. But now I understand why. He married a woman who dumped me to date him instead. (Did I mention dysfunctional?) And that woman hates me for reasons I have never heard. Don’t really care at this point, because I have two other families that accept me. Like me. Choose to include me in their lives.

I have five step-daughters, because Donna had three, plus two had best friends that considered her their other mom, and just accept me. Talk to all of them regularly.

I have a second wife and her family is amazing. Everybody likes everybody else, which is alien to me. Completely insane. My Brother-in-Law called to sing me Happy Birthday. Nuff said?

So I had to process. If you read this, that means that it passed muster with the boss to be public. I’ve left out enough that nobody can really bitch, other than those people who are all martyrs to whatever cause they chose this week.

I chose to be happy. I get up every morning and no longer serve evil. (and bubba, there were years…)

I have her family, and her family. And they are great people. On Donna’s side, I have a step-grandson that I hope shows an interest in publishing one of these days, so we can train him up in the business. My books will remain in copyright for seventy years after my death. If I went tomorrow, he’s eighty when that happens, and I plan on four and a half more decades of productivity first. His great-grandkids.

On the other side, she had a grand-niece who is fourteen and a business shark. I want to hire her to learn advertising and train her up on our catalog.

It is sad, no longer really having my entire side of the family as folks that I could call on. Or invite over for a beer. At the same time, they made those choices.

That’s my current motto: “You made those choices. Now go make better ones.”

Every morning, you have that choice. Most people fall into a rut and that’s the end of their life.

Don’t end up like my family did, dysfunctional because the narcissists are martyrs who snipe and savage everyone else.

Let my family be enough of a lesson.