There are many things in life that when they are over, they are just over. Wes used to always say “Good night Irene,” whenever that was the case. Mostly, it was when the Redskins were playing and there was no way they were going to win. I, on the other hand, always held out hope, even when there was nary a shred of evidence that they could pull out a win. I suppose that was the case with Wes’ cancer as well. Wes called it like he saw it. I called it like I wanted it to be. Perhaps I’m not the realist after all.
But throughout our lives there are many experiences that we partake in, in regards to jobs, family, friends, relationships and even our travels. Our lives are in a constant state of change and motion, even when we are standing still. Life continues on, to be sure, even when we aren’t paying attention. But so many times when we think we are set on a particular course, our direction changes, often times drastically and dramatically, and we are left with the feeling of what the heck do we do now.
As Wes left his family business after 35 years, he was thrown into a sphere of not really knowing what to do, or even what he wanted to do. He was happy to be out of the business for a myriad of reasons, but it also catapulted him into a realm of uncertainty and even distress. As Wes was regrouping and putting controls in place, we both wanted to rehab a house as it was something we were both itching to do. So we did what any sane person would do in a life change – we purchased a dump at the beach and dug our heals in and set the process in motion. The kids and Wes and I were all excited about the adventure, as this renovation became a focus for Wes and something he was excited about. While Wes enlisted his friends and fellow Goons to be an integral part of the process, with Waz at the helm and Tim as apprentice, they were there to guide and teach and bring this renovation to fruition. Waz has years of experience building with his Dad and brother, and Wes and Tim wanted to be taught the ropes while enjoying a project together bidding themselves the contractors of the newly minted “Goon Construction.” Good God.
As the kids and I were right in there helping in the process, we were part of the deconstruction and the reconstruction. Waz led the process and collectively we all decided what the renovation was going to look like. It was a great experience for all of us, and for me to see Wes back to his normal self with a renewed desire, and drive and enjoyment again, was a really huge thing for me. We had more Goons helping and it was a family affair, to be sure, and Wes and I let the kids make contributions to the ideas for the renovation as well as the building and construction. Needless to say, the house became an emotional project for all of us and one we relished. As it quickly became a rental property, and as Wes became ill, the house also became a drain.
After Wes passed away, there were now 2 beach houses to deal with and one person at the helm. As it all became too much for me so many times, the kids and Goons were always there to help, but even so, none of us could shake this emotional attachment we had to the house. As we finally got a contract, we agreed to let the purchasers move in a month early, since their house sold quickly and they were in need of a roof over their heads. So in changing gears, we moved the furniture out.
As the move-in date for the new purchasers quickly approached, and as the sun was coming up, I made my way to the house to clean and make sure that it was spotless for the new owners to move in. As I trudged through the cleaning process, I was overtaken with the realization that I was actually closing this chapter of my life, and closing down and shutting off something that Wes really loved and enjoyed and was proud of. Everything in that house screamed of Wes. We all felt it every time we were in it. I became more overwhelmed, and very emotional, realizing again and again, that with grief and loss, you just can’t seem to get out of the peanut butter. The tears found me again – of course they did. There were tears of frustration, tears for sadness, and definitely tears for the closing of a chapter that I was only in part ready to shut. I was ready to discard the stress this house presented to me on a daily basis, of course I was, but not so ready to sell the house that Wes built to someone else. As the tears rolled, I looked up and saw Jake pulling in the driveway and getting out of the car. I opened the front door and he said: “Hey Mom, I thought you might need some help.” More tears came, for all the reasons they were there before Jake got there, and more tears fell for the kindness of a kid that was feeling some of the same emotions as his mom, and the understanding that maybe we could do better if we did it together. Thank you Jake, for being my shoulder that day – and for so many other days as well. As I stood on the stoop crying, not sobbing mind you, but a steady stream of tears and wearing my emotions all over my sleeves and every other place too, I realized again, my blessings in the child that came to give me a hand.
I said “Jake, I can’t believe you’re here – I was starting to get pretty emotional.” None of us had to explain the emotions to each other, because we all knew it and got it. It may seem crazy, if you think this is really just brick and mortar, but this house represented so many great and cool and fun times and memories for us that those aspects always stood out for us even as the good times trumped the drain it put on us to carry it. This house mattered to us, that’s just a fact. And although we knew the sale was a relief, it was also the start of opening up the pain that had been somewhat compartmentalized but yet still just below the surface on all things Wes. Closing the doors to the things you had together or did together is a tough call, even when it’s practical. So as Jake stayed for a couple of hours, he headed out and I stayed to finish up, and then lock up – for the last time, and for good.
As I was standing at the front door looking around the house, I was flooded with a million images and memories, and with it, the tears came once again. And as I stood there trying to assimilate the emotions and memories, Wes’ words popped into my head and out of my mouth, audible to no one but me, and I said “Good night Irene.” More tears, to be sure. When it’s over, it’s just over.
Maybe it’s just a house, but to us it was great family memories where each and every one of us played a role in the process. Those moments are irreplaceable, even with the sale of the house – or the loss of our captain. Some memories are just more profound than others. The whole project from start to finish was a great experience for all of us and I am grateful for the fun that Wes had, and the ability for all of us to be a part of those moments. Wes was grateful too. For the Goons and for the kids. And maybe for me too. Hopefully me too.
So as we finally settled on the house that was never meant to be carried for as long as it was, we welcomed the new owners and as we were parting ways, I told them that the house was built with a lot of love, a lot of laughs, good will and good cheer with friends and family, and that I hope that they felt that positive energy everyday that they lived there. God bless.
And as we continue to have to face our next steps when we lose our rudders or we lose our way, we are constantly navigating what do we do now and what do we do next? Closing chapters and closing doors is one of the toughest things I’ve had to contend with. Plautus said: “Courage is it’s own reward. Starting over is the bravest kind of starting there is.” Maybe so, but closing doors to a life we are familiar with is unrelentingly hard – it’s that old comfortable shoe syndrome again. And of course, not wanting to give up on what was our old life, and scared of what a new life may look like.
Through this blog, one of my instructors at American U. introduced me to her mom’s dear friend that lost her husband to a long battle with cancer last year. Apparently my blog was relatable to her – that is my hope, by the way, and through emails we decided to meet. I met Jane M. for lunch in Chevy Chase and as the restaurant wasn’t packed, picked by her by design, we closed the place down with conversation and tears of what our journey both looked like and certainly felt like. For both of us, its felt like a vice grip on our chest while wading through peanut butter. Not desirable by any stretch. But one of the questions that Jane asked me still has me stumped: what do you do with your ring – your wedding ring that is. Do you keep it or do you let it go? Good question. How do we give up on all that we know? All that is our comfort? Imagine a ring on your finger to be so significant, but it is, because it has been your security. Everyday that it is on your finger it represents the encapsulated love and commitment to one another. So how do you let that go? I didn’t have an answer for that – and I still don’t. That seems to me to be the equivalent of cutting off your arm. Just by sheer symbolism, it may be one of the harshest.
And just as in selling a house we shared, we also are faced with giving up on small things, hugely significant, that represent all that we know or knew. Changing course and closing doors and chapters adds to the immense pressure of moving on. For me, maybe I hang on to things too long. Cutting those ties that bind are more difficult for me than anything. I tend to attach a lot of emotion to all that is around me, and a part of me. Brick and mortar, maybe baby, but to me, the emotions I attach to things also makes me not take them for granted. I wear it on my sleeve, to be sure. I’m a sap. There I said it.
As I try to gauge the journey so many of us are on, and to what degrees we actually move on or are in the process of trying, I find there can be a huge divide. Of course there is. But whether or not you can sell a property or get rid of a ring, I have come to notice that it is the outlook of the person that maybe makes the difference. There is no right or wrong, but at some point, I am figuring out, we need to take more than just the proverbial step. We need to take a leap. Often times those leaps are leaps of faith, and to where, we don’t always know, but we get to a point where we can either live or just simply exist. Existing in the weightiness of what was, ultimately ends up costing us more, by way of our psyche, even more than the grief we’ve been carrying for so long. At what point do we say “enough,” and change our mindset around to push ourselves to be productive and happy. What I am finding is that being productive after life changes isn’t just about getting up and getting through the day – but more about seeking a different personal outlook where inner contentment can take hold and blossom into something more meaningful. Look, I’m no poster child for this, and as I sit and write this, I am also having to examine where I am in this journey, what is my target, if I even have one, and is there a goal for my life. Lot’s of questions, with not so many answers. But I put it out there because I believe there are so many of us that go through losses from a death, divorce, addictions, abuse – whatever and anything, and are forced to figure out how do we give up the past and go on? Where do we leave the past behind, and how do we sift through the great parts of our past and push through to the future keeping and collecting all the good stuff from behind and bring it into our new future? How do we do that? I think we must – all of us. If we stay cemented in the maladies of the past, and don’t push ourselves to be challenged every day to dig deeper to be better, to set goals and to attain them and to have fun and contentment again, we lose, or at least, stay lost. The more we challenge ourselves, the more we start to feel alive inside, because that creativity is personally rewarding and healing as well.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot, but as I continue to take my proverbial steps and sometimes leaps in my journey, I am indeed having revelations on what I need to do, or at the very least attempt to do to push my way through the peanut butter. And as that line of Wes’ rolls around in my head fairly often, I still hold out hope – for anything – for resilience, for contentment, for strength and for peace. And closing this chapter is not easy, not by a long shot. But there is a caption to a picture in the book “Humans of New York,” by Brandon Stanton, where an older women, wearing a fur hat and a fur coat, told the photographer: “When my husband was dying, I said: “Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?” He told me: “Take the love you have for me and spread it around.” Throughout all the pain and grief over the last four years since Wes has died, this quote is the only thing that makes sense to me. Wesley, you are the love of my life. I have more love stored up inside of me, than I know what to do with. I will do my best to spread it around. I love you and Good night Irene.