Our daughter and I couldn't afford to live in Silicon Valley anymore. I discussed our financial situation with Jerry and explained that I needed to move somewhere cheaper. He and I talked about where would be a good place to move so that he could maintain his every other weekend with her. As we crunched numbers, we ended up talking about a place that was 6 hours away, and he said that if we were going to move that far away, he would rather that we move the east coast to be closer to family. So, we planned a move to Boston: me, our daughter and my parents. My mother's doctor told her to not move to New England as the weather would shorten her life significantly. I discussed this with Jerry, and he was upset, but understanding, and together, we looked at other places. We settled on the Charleston/Beaufort/Savannah area and, with Jerry's permission, if not blessing, we moved.
Once in Savannah, Jerry began his ritual of Sunday night phone calls to our daughter. The first year, he visited for a couple of weeks in September, and again in December, and visited once or twice a year for a couple of weeks after that, always staying in my guestroom. After two weeks, every time, I remembered why we didn't live together any more, and would be sad to see him go, but also a little relieved. It was hard to explain our relationship to people, and it was no one's business but ours, anyway, so we took the easy way out and said we were divorced. Every few years, one of us would make some noises like we should make it official, and the other would drag our feet. Truth is, if we had wanted the divorce to be final, all it would have taken was two signatures and filing it with the court, but we never did that. The reasons why are our reasons, and he and talked several times about why we never got it together and got it done. We didn't know why then and I don't know why now. The reasons we never finalized anything were our reasons, and no one else's business.
The Friday before Thanksgiving in 2009, I got an early morning call from our close friend, Alex, a doctor at the local hospital. He said Jerry had a brain bleed the day prior, was in intensive care, there was no hope, and the neurologist wanted permission to pull the plug. Our daughter was in Atlanta at college, and I was alone to make a decision. I decided that there would be no plug pulling until we got there and I instructed the doctor to do everything in her power to keep him warm until our daughter had an opportunity to be with him. I sat in shock for what seemed an eternity, but probably was only a half hour. So many things.... so many memories.... I had to call our daughter. It was awful. I then called Jerry's remaining brother, Joe. That was awful too. His wife Maddie, came on the phone, a nurse, and I explained everything I knew at that point. She said to keep them updated, which I did as things developed.
I had no credit cards, and about $500 in the bank due to a series of unfortunate events with my renters, and paying for my father's funeral just a few months prior. A friend paid for our plane tickets, another put us up for the two weeks we were there and fed us, We got there, we were able to say our goodbyes, and then someone had to sign the order to remove the apparatus. Our daughter was 19 and shell shocked, as I was. So, I signed. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I would do it a hundred times in order to save our daughter the pain of having to do that. In less than an hour, he was gone. Fr. Michael, our dear friend and Jerry's parish priest guided us through the next decisions that needed to be made. Luckily, Jerry had $5000.00 in his pocket and the keys to his car, so we were able to drive around to get things done. I told the undertaker that I couldn't spend more than $5000.00 because that was all I had. Everything cost just over $5000.00, but we didn't have a plot. That would have cost $2500.00 in Colma. The nuns in SC offered a free plot if we could just get Jerry there. A friend paid the nearly $1200.00 to ship Jerry's body, another paid $1300.00 to fix his car and $2000.00 to have his car shipped, since our daughter was adamant at the time that she wanted it for herself. A team of friends helped us go through his apartment, which was exactly like the hoarding shows on tv. We were able to find his DD214, so I was able to get him a military headstone, and our daughter chose the wording on it. Another friend directed the movers while continuing to sort through his stuff, and paid $2000.00 to ship his stuff back to GA.
Jerry's funeral was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Throughout all of this, I spoke with Madeleine every day, or even twice a day, depending on what was happening. She assured me that she relayed all the info to Joe and the family. Everyone was so upset; Joe was too upset, as the oldest and last brother, to even talk to me on the phone. I get it. I understand. At the visitation, Maroun, a friends husband from Lebanon, gave us his condolences, and asked to be introduced to Jerry's brother and family. When I said that no one from his family was there, he was so shocked and said a few things that I will never forget, things like, "why are they not here? This is their brother and they are not here. This is not how we do things in Lebanon. I thought they were Lebanese? what kind of Lebanese are these people to be so cold?" I hadn't thought about it really, as Jerry's family were not traveling kind of people, and they had not made any effort over the years to maintain a relationship with Elizabeth. If I hadn't made a point of visiting them when we were in Boston, they would never have had any contact with her at all - except for Phil. He was good about telephoning a few times a year and sending cards with nice notes, and Christmas presents to her.
When all was said and done, it was a horrible time. There were decisions that no 19 year old should have to make on her own, and we made decisions together. I had legal status as his wife and I signed the papers. Our friends made it possible for us to be with him as he drew his last so he would not die alone, and to bring his body to a beautiful cemetary only a couple of hours away, where he is prayed for daily and his grave blessed several times a year, and where we can, and do, visit him often. We disposed of the garbage (literally) that filled his apartment with the help of friends, and let me say that mental illness turned Jerry into someone unrecognizable. Friends made this possible, comforted his daughter and me, helped us make decisions. I reached out to Jerry's blood family every single day, and although Maddie was so very upset, she offered no assistance of any kind other than letting the rest of the family know.
Afterwards, I wrote thank you notes to everyone who sent flowers or made a donation or helped in any way. One note went to his brother for the flowers and a donation. Jerry's daughter received not one phone call, card, note, donation or any type of communication from any other member of Jerry's family.
I was not prepared for the depth of my grief. It hit me like a freight train. I still have bad days. I have made a real effort to not think about the bad things, the reasons why we didn't live together, as that is private, and to focus on the good things which were many. We were not divorced, not legally, and not emotionally, and I think of myself as a widow. At some point, I changed my status on FaceBook to widow since the choices were single, divorced, married, in a relationship or widowed, and widowed seemed to be the most apt.
Our daughter lost her grandfather and father in the same year at 19 years old. She had a horrible year with relationships, financially as we couldn't pay for her tuition in January or her rent because the money managers tied up Jerry's money which he left to her. She was angry and hurting, as you would expect, and made some choices that only added to her pain overall. She was angry at Jerry's family for never making any effort to keep in contact with her - all contacts and visits were because I made the phone call and I made sure that she got to Quincy whenever we were in Boston. She was angry that not one person in the family, not her uncle or aunt, not her cousins, not one person in the extended family reached out to her personally when Jerry died, and not one of them made the trip for the funeral which was nearly a week later, or made a measley donation in Jerry's name. She had always felt abandoned by them despite my best efforts, and she wanted nothing else to do with them, since they obviously wanted nothing to do with her, or with her father, apparently.
A while later, I posted something on Jerry's FB wall about how we missed him, and his cousin Linda and I chatted a little bit. She is a really nice person, and either she was too polite to say anything negative to me, or she really didn't have anything negative to say. A while after that, her daughter Michelle Juvelis lit into me on FB, saying that I had no right to bury him far from his family and I did that on purpose to prevent his family from mourning him. I tried, briefly, to explain that they were not prevented from anything, and that he was buried near his family - namely, his daughter - but soon realized that she was having none of that, and I stopped interacting with her.
A few weeks ago, I posted something on FB, and somehow, got to chatting with another of Jerry's cousins, Denise Dayie. She didn't come to our wedding, and I had never met her, though I met both her sisters a few times. She friended me and I accepted, as I have always thought it a good idea to be friends with as many of Jerry's relatives as possible because I hope at some point, our daughter will want some contact with her family. It's clear that Denise and I are on two different sides of the coin politically, but I told her that as adults, we can agree to disagree. She told me some family lore about how and why my mother in laws parents came to the US, which I did not know, and I told her that I was glad to know the story and would pass it on to Elizabeth.
Fast forward to last night. I checked FB before turning in for the night, and out of the blue, Denise had written me the most rude and angry message:
How dare you claim on your FB page that you are a widow! When my cousin Jerry died, you were divorced. My family never liked you, and when Jerry died, you claimed his body. None of us in Boston could not mourn him because you would not allow us. You are a know it all and I'm sorry I friended you. For some reason, you are glorifying yourself in his memory. I hope you can live with yourself. BTW, you and I never met but you acted like we were long lost friends. You hurt my kind and gentle cousin Jerry. You are one sick, ugly person. I feel sorry for Elizabeth, now known as Ilya. What is up with that? Leave my cousins memory alone. You are not one of us! You never will be.
I was shocked, and then I got so angry that I literally saw red, hence the name of this post. The thing that made me so angry was not the widow thing, but was the assertion that someone in the extended family had rights that superseded Jerry's daughter's rights, which is basically what she is saying when she says that I claimed his body and wouldn't allow anyone in Boston to mourn Jerry. Huh? Of course, she didn't know about Jerry's mental issues that made it impossible for me to live with him, few people did, and she painted me like the bad guy, which, I admit, stung, but the thing that really pissed me off was that there was no understanding that the person closest to him, his daughter, was a kid when he died, and all the decisions that were made at that time were made to comfort HER, and despite asking for input and keeping the family aware of every step, those decisions were made without any input from any member of Jerry's family. Including his brother and sister in law, who left everything in my hands, saying basically, "whatever you think is best". I slipped a groove, because if you poke this Mama Bear regarding her child, she is going to roar. I sent a long, snippy reply, full of typos (which shows how upset I was):
You know nothing of what went on between Jerry and me and believe me when I say the hurt was mutual. You also know nothing if the state of our marriage, and we never divorced. Our daughter and myself were left utterly destitute trying to get Jerry buried, and although Joe was the first person we called, I don't recall you offering to purchase a plot or contributing to his final expenses, which included an 18K tax bill which I paid, just like I paid 32K in credit card debt that he made. We were offered a free plot to bury him, under an oak tree, by the Abbess of St. Martha and Mary Monastery, only a couple of hours from where we live, and we were grateful. His grave us visited and he is prayed for every day. I don't recall any calls, letters, flowers or cards from one single member of your family to his only child, only 19 at the time. There were no donations to hus church from a single family member other than his brother. Although we did not live together, I always thought he would get himself together and we could try again, but you don't know that, as you know so little. You were welcomed and to assist our daughter and I make hard choices, but we heard nothing from any of you. You forget that his daughter s needs were and are more important than yours and the decisions made then were what brought get the most comfort. I've never spoken badly of any of you, and have done my best to help Jerry's daughter understand that the complete silence from his family was not intentional. How dare you sit in judgement about my marriage, myself, or my husband's burial in a place where his daughter and I and his friends can, and do, visit him often. We reached out to your family and received silence in return. My daughter hates that, and I friended you and others in the family to try to keep some communication open for her sake, since you are her blood. You were not kept from mourning him. Every one of you chose to not communicate when he died. you chose to not participate. You were all needed and wanted and would have been welcomed. You were not kept from anything. His daughter claimed hus bidy. Who are you to think you have more rights than her? You know nothing. Nothing at all.
Oh, and Phil is buried right there in Boston. When is the last time you visited his grave?
Chat Conversation End
This morning, I haven't heard anything back from Denise. She did read my reply, and I think we are still FB friends, but it really doesn't matter. I'm happy that she told me that one story about the grandparents, and that is enough from her. I have one more tie to Elizabeth's history to tell her, and since she is searching so hard for her Arabic identity, this is a good thing. I've done what I can to help her with that over the years, but other than cooking the food, and listening to the music, and teaching her the few words that I know, there isn't much else I can do. She needs her family to fill in the rest of what it means to be Lebanese. Unfortunately, only two of her cousins are in good contact with her, and that only through FB, and one of them has even less cultural understanding than her.
However, this morning, as I ponder these things, I'm really am forced to seriously look at the accusations made to me, for the second time.
Did I claim his body? Yes. I had to. There was no one else. Elizabeth was too young, and his brother too far away. Yes, I claimed it.
Did I deliberately keep his family from mourning him? No, not deliberately for sure. Those two weeks when everything had to be done are a little hazy, but no, I definitely called Joe and Maddie every day with updates and I remember asking what Joe thought. I specifically tried to get his opinion as Jerry only brother, but there were no opinions given to me, no feedback. I didn't have any contact info for anyone else in the family, so I couldn't have called them, even if I thought of it, which I did not at the time. Even if I could have called them, even if I could have called his cousins Linda, Annette, Denise and Barbara, it is really ludicrous for any of them to think that they, as mere cousins, would have made any decisions. It's also ludicrous for them to think that I would have brought Jerry to Boston, where I would have had to buy a plot (even if I had the money for it), and then leave him there so far from his daughter.
If they felt that they had no input, that is their fault. If they felt they couldn't mourn because the body was elsewhere, well, that is completely wrong, too. The Orthodox Pannikhida service does not require a body, and is usually said on the 9th day, 40th day, six months, one year and yearly thereafter, which was and is done for Jerry in my own parish and in Jerry's parish of St. Christina's. They could have called St. George's and had this service for the family but as far as I know, that did not happen, and I doubt that there is a yearly memorial for him either, as they are not churchgoing folk. Jerry was a churchgoer. He was very regular in his attendance and loved the church. His own church members wanted to make a permanent memorial to Jerry, so the choir (that he sang in for many years) purchased a bench in the garden in his memory. This is way more than his own family did, with the exception of his brother.
The widow thing.... I need to think some more about that. I was totally blindsided by the depth of my grief, grief that I still feel. It seemed easy to simply say I was a widow, and people would pat my hand, say they were sorry and leave it at that. When I said he was my ex husband, I got questioned in a very intrusive and painful way, so at the time, after having to sign papers as his spouse (which I was, legally), it seemed easiest and least painful to identify as a widow. It was also how I felt. I understand Denise's confusion about that, though I don't know where her anger comes from and I don't really care. How I identify myself is really none of her business. She has no rights in this matter. But I do have some small degree of understanding as to what she was trying to say.
As far as whether Jerry's family liked me or not, I always felt loved by his aunts and uncles, and really only met Linda and Annette at the shower and the wedding. I met a few of his other relatives at the wedding, but not many of them came - most of the people from Jerry's side were his mother's friends. His mother made out the guest list, so she controlled who was invited, though not who came. It really is a low blow for Denise to say that, but it doesn't affect the good relationship I had with Jerry's aunts and uncles. If they hated me, they hid it well, but they are long gone and I bear no one any ill will. It simply doesn't matter.
She said I am a know it all. Well, yup. Nothing new there. I have a lot of sins and one of the biggest is pride in my own competence. Pride. Yes, I usually think I know better. I'm doing a little better with that, still have a long way to go, but I recognize that she is entirely right on this one. The 23 year old me that married Jerry was a real asshat. Not one drop of humility. I now have one drop, which is nothing to be proud of, at 61.
Am I glorifying myself in Jerry's memory? I'm not entirely sure what she means by that, but certainly, saying to the world that I'm a widow is not entirely truthful; neither is saying I'm divorced. I guess single is the most accurate, but doesn't take into account the huge Jerry shaped hole inside me. I continue to say that I'm a widow, and when I do, I'm giving credence to what we had together, the grief that I felt and feel. But I'm treated differently as a widow. I'm used to being treated as a widow now, seven years later. I never really spent any time considering the ramifications of identifying as a widow before she said that last night. I need to think about it some more.
No, I will never be one of them, and after over 40 years of knowing that family, I don't really want to be. They are nice enough, and I have many warm memories of my inlaws and Jerry's aunts and uncles, but that's about it. However, my daughter IS one of them, even though she rejects them right now because she has been rejected by them, and for her sake, I have maintained a cordial relationship with Joe and Maddie, and my nephews and nieces, including Ricky's wife, Karen, and Rachel's SO Smaly. I've even reconnected with Rachel's mother, Michelle, and maybe I should talk with her about all this, since she married in as well.
This is a huge brain and heart dump, and I need to stop now, but I was blindsided last night. Writing all this down has helped me to be calmer and more objective, so it has served it's purpose, I guess. Modern journals are electronic, dontcha know!