I never got a copy of the book about what is appropriate after your spouse dies

The grief to new love trilogy-Part III.

I have never experienced anything like the loneliness of losing a spouse. The personal journey of sadness is impossible to explain and definitely impossible for anyone who has not gone through it to understand.

And yet, it seems a lot of judgmental people believe they know exactly how you are supposed to behave and how much time you should take to grieve. I have heard people criticize people for grieving too long and I know I have been criticized for getting into a relationship too quickly. The reaction I got when I told some people I was in a meaningful relationship within a year of my wife’s death almost convinced me there must be a book of rules and I missed it. You would think that book makes it clear there is a very specific time period when a new relationship is appropriate, but again, the book must be printed on disappearing paper because nobody ever produced a copy for me.

Mostly unstated, but clearly implied is that anything earlier than a year is just wrong. What this view clearly endorses is that there is a prescribed time to grieve and one only starts a new relationship when one is “done” grieving. That is unadulterated bull-hockey. I have a wedding date set with a woman I love very much and I have grieved my late wife as recently as the last 48 hours. I will always grieve her and I do not find that odd at all. I suspect most widows and widowers would agree with me.

I didn’t stop grieving. I simply came to the realization that Jean is not coming back. She can’t laugh with me. She can’t roll her eyes at me and she can’t hold me. I need someone in my life to love and I got lucky and found her quickly because we were good friends a long time ago. If people can’t appreciate that, at least they can keep their mean words and judgmental looks to themselves.

Most people, but more men than women, seem incredibly pleased when I have said I’m going to get married 15 months after my wife Jean’s death. I recently met a long-ago friend in the Detroit airport and when I told him he said with certainty, “and you damn well should.” More than one man has said “I think I would probably be even faster than you!”  Men seem to be able to quickly empathize with the harsh reality of loneliness.

Many women, especially women close to me, have been enthusiastic too. Their reaction is usually, “why wouldn’t we want Tim to be happy?” They saw the depths of my sadness and don’t want me to be sad. My children have been similar. They know the depth of my loss and they have agreed that Jean would not want me wallowing in tears. There is one tricky issue with my kids that requires deep sensitivity. I can go out and find a new wife, they can’t go find a new mom. That makes me cry for them and careful to continue to fondly remember Jean with them. And, it is why my fiance, Candace, has attempted to approach my kids as friends and nothing else. But Jason, my 36 year-old son with Down syndrome who is always wise, has declared to Candace with pride and vigor that she is his “homie.” Jason to the rescue once again.

There have been some people who questioned my timing, simply wondering if  I am of sound mine rather than being judgmental. I don’t begrudge that. I’ve been second guessed all my life.

But then there are the people who seem to have the mysterious book I can’t find. They are the “mean” judgmentals. Though they have never walked in my boots, they are quite clear that I am violating some law of the universe. More than a few women immediately apply my situation to that of their husband and wonder if he would do the same thing. They don’t like that worth a damn but that is a silly inquiry because the grief process and the reconstruction process are unique to each of us.

There can be no schedule for rebuilding one’s life and finding a new partner. Each widow and widower should make their own decision about what is right for them with full confidence that there is no damn book to follow! Only your heart.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Musical lyrics can contain the soul of life

My musical career is checkered.

When I was in sixth grade my class and school intensely prepared for an annual Music Festival. As we neared the big date the school’s music teacher, A Dominican nun, approached me and five classmates. She carefully seated us toward the front of the school’s bleachers in a tight group. This was my big moment. We were obviously being prepared for a big solo or ensemble piece.

Without much affection or gentility the good Sister said, “you six just mouth the words.” I was crushed. I suffered the same indignities throughout my academic career and when I was a fairly accomplished actor in high school and college I was doomed to the non-singing roles in musical theater. People look askance when I sing the National Anthem too.

The crowd of musical experts was not wrong. I can’t carry a tune and I don’t know a musical chord from a bungee cord. I do love lyrics, however. As I have reported in this blog before I am a fan of something called alternative country music largely because I find the lyrics so compelling.

Saturday night I was profoundly moved by a Paul Thorn concert at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum Theater. Thorn, a former boxer, is a very funny man. His humor entertained, his singing seemed great to my tin ear, but Paul Thorn’s lyrics were captivating and often stirring.

Thorn is the son of a preacher and though he is somewhat sardonic about that experience, his father’s vocation has obviously bred deep roots of philosophy and spirituality. Some of Thorn’s lyrics are funny, like “It’s better to be the hammer than the nail,” but many provoked a couple of days of introspection.

One of his Most powerful songs was “I hope I am doing this right.”  This lyric really got me:

BEFORE I GO TO BED
I KNEEL AND PRAY EVERY NIGHT.
I WONDER IF GOD’S PROUD OF ME.
I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.

But then Thorn hit me with the chorus;

THE MORE I LEARN THE LESS I KNOW
THE MORE I CHANGE
THE MORE I GROW.
I PRAY THE ROAD I’M TRAVELIN’ ON WILL LEAD ME TO THE LIGHT
GOD I HOPE I’M DOIN’ THIS RIGHT.

I deeply admire a folk singer who can pose such a fundamental question of life with verve and talent. I don’t know about you but I wonder all the time whether I am doing this life thing right. Thorn’s words are not going to leave me soon.

But the talented musician wasn’t done with my soul for the evening. He asked another question I ask myself constantly, but probably don’t act on enough with the song titled “What Have You Done to Lift Somebody Up?” That powerful chorus goes like this:

What have you done to lift somebody up?
When have you helped someone who’s got it rough?
Oh we can change the world with a little love
What have you done to lift somebody up?There is a chance I was in a particularly reflective mood Saturday night, but I think an artist who can explore the basic lessons of life and entertain at the same time is a precious natural resource.

We all get motivation and provocation from strange and different places, but Saturday night a folk/rock artist from Tupelo, MS made me think good thoughts about life on this rotating sphere of ours. I hope those powerful lyrics make me act too.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Think for a minute about what Ed Catmull calls “life’s two inch events”

One of my favorite recent books is Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull. Catmull is the head of Pixar Animation studios and he has been a creative and leadership force in a number of pioneering animation efforts such as Toy Story.

Catmull is fascinated with the role fate plays in shaping our lives. He writes about  life’s “two inch events.” His point is that if I wouldn’t have awakened just as a pal was falling asleep at a very dangerous curve when we were 21, several stories, including that of our children, would be fundamentally different.

On one trip to the badlands and Mt. Rushmore, when my son Jeff was about three, we left an amusement area and encountered heavy traffic. Our Down syndrome son Jason was seven. An oncoming driver obviously lost patience with the traffic and attempted to pass four or five cars only to find the McGuire family directly in his sights and no way to get back into his lane. He was certain to hit us but my defensive actions were limited because there was a steep ravine on our right. With fate on my side, I turned the wheel hard right to avoid the oncoming car. As we precariously skidded on the edge of that ravine I jerked the wheel back hard left to avoid guaranteed tragedy.

I had just saved my family from one of our scariest encounters ever, and possible death, when my two little boys simultaneously and gleefully shouted “Wheeeeeeeeeee.” Not the kind of acclaim I expected for my life-saving maneuver.

It was one of those “two-inch events” and you would not be reading this blog if I had come just a bit closer to that ravine. My daughter, Tracy, and her family probably wouldn’t be around etc, etc.

I don’t tell this story to be macabre but rather to stress the sense of gratitude we all should feel. I am willing to bet every reader of this post has a “two-inch event” for which you should be grateful.

I have a friend who survived dangerous action in Vietnam and who survived alcoholism. He shakes his head in amazement when he considers the “two-inch events” in his life. But I marvel at how this man connects people and boosts people’s self esteem. His retirement job is helping people be better. As I talked to him the other day I couldn’t help but think how much the world would have lost if “two inches” would have ever gone against him

Life is fragile and our job is to make the most of it with joy and enthusiasm. We have to avoid anything that looks like passivity because that two inches could easily go against us the next time.