Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Remember to Breathe"

Perfect Calm
Originally uploaded by Morland Smith

Yesterday my daughter told her brothers that she wanted to take them shopping today to get them something for Christmas. I thought it was such a great gesture, which allowed the three of them to spend time together outside the house, and without Dad in tow. Of course both boys were excited to have her attention, and I was looking forward to a few hours to spend however I pleased. As the day progressed toward their planned outing I began to see the makings of their plan's demise. They each had different ideas of where to go, the sky was getting darker with rain clouds, and my 16 year old didn't like the idea that they were traveling by city bus. I had to make a quick decision, one that I wasn't quite sure was a wise one. Okay, you may take Michael's car.

My car, the family car, is off limits to my daughter, as my insurance agent says it is too expensive to have her on the policy. Her car, an older model economy car, has been parked in the driveway for months, with a blown transmission. Michael's car, a silver convertible, described by his nephew as "a chick magnet," is not exactly what I want the three of them riding around in. But, if I want some time unencumbered, then tough choices must be made.

Long story short, I remembered that I had previously paid for a number of massages, which I discussed in a prior post. I called up the day spa and they indeed had an available appointment. I got there with plenty of time to spare, so I was able to feel relaxed, calm and ready to be pampered. The masseur showed me the way to the room, and after I was laying on the table, he came in ready to begin. He was friendly, in a unassuming way, and thought to ask how my Christmas had gone. I replied that it was "nice, thank you."

"How did you spend your holiday?"

"Oh, well, I spent it quietly at home with my kids."

"Did you do anything special?"

"No, uh, not really, it was just a calm and quiet day, just like I'd hoped it would be."

"What? No feast? No merriment?"

So, here is one of those moments. What to say? What to do? When is it appropriate to mention in casual conversation, that my life is not what it would seem? When is it worth mentioning my truth, which may create a awkward situation for the other person, or which may open up my wounds and create a vulnerable situation for me?

Most of what I think of as my public time, time in which I am forced to interact with those who do not know my reality, I just walk around feeling like a ghost. I feel invisible to the outside world. I feel less human, because I feel hollow. My life no longer has the same meaning. I was once part of the living. I shared my joy with those that passed my way. I had a role that many understood. I was a husband, a partner, a lover. I had good days. I had bad days. I had great days, and I had days that were complete disasters. Now I am mostly numb. One day feels no different from the next. Some nights are worse than others, but those don't often get exposed in my public time.

I'm not sure which is more difficult. Being around people who know why 'calm and quiet' is a good day for me, yet finding they don't know what to say. Or, being around people who don't know why 'calm and quiet' is something to behold, and wondering whether it is worth sharing my truth. I suppose I won't know unless I take a chance now and then.

"Well, to be honest, I'm in mourning. My husband passed away a few months ago."

Hand to shoulder, pause,

"I am so sorry."

Gentle squeeze.

"Thank you."

From that point forward, I felt able to truly relax. For the next 90 minutes I was able to be myself. I was able to be 'Dan, in real time.' I was a gay man, laying on a table, vulnerable, in the capable hands of another presumably gay man. I was a widower, who had survived the emotional toll of my first Christmas without my husband, and I was asking for caring, and careful, attention.

"Remember to breathe."

Those were the best words I had heard all day.


  1. I am so glad that you took your own advice to me and did something to take care of YOU :-)

    That said, I think that you were brave to do it. I am scared of having a massage because I think it will remind me too much of what it is to have caring gentle hands touch me ... and that I will spend the entire session heaving and hysterical and the grief will all fall out on the massage table.

    I think I need to go, but am not brave enough yet.

    Did Michael's car survive the day? I'd imagine you'd need a massage simply to recover from THAT!! Let alone the real reason you needed it for ... tension seems to reside in our bodies permanently these days, even whilst we sleep, we don't seem to truly relax.

    The masseuse sounds like a sensitive soul, someone who I could trust :-)

    It's amazing how a little squeeze of empathy can mean so much and penetrate the numbness of grief. It can actually reach you, can't it?

    Please remember to book another session, perhaps after you get your daughter's transmission looked at? Then maybe she will generously agree to take her little brothers out once a month so that you can have this precious time for YOU.

  2. i echo, Boo, but it also pleases me to read that you were unafraid to say the words, "my husband died." i've heard that some cannot. they are afraid of public tears, or they don't know how they will be treated after the words come out, a myriad of reasons. i've always said it, even from the beginning. i've had tears run down my face in the camera store when i went to pick up my moon pictures.
    "these are great photos of the moon. i mean they really show an intense relationship that you have with the moon. is there something special there?"
    "yes, my husband died on the night of the full moon. i go outside and do it every month. it's a communion of sorts."
    "oh, i am so sorry. i can see why you would do that. oh, here, i have kleenex. oh, please, may i have permission to give you a hug?"

    the hug was odd but the intent was very well meant. i accepted it and felt the foundation of it was sincere. something i get very little of in this city where i have had to move to.

    i am glad enjoyed your massage.