Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wall - Part 2

Last week, I wrote about seeing Roger Waters perform “The Wall” live at Wrigley Field.  A concept album released by Pink Floyd in the 1970s, Waters now is out on tour complete with a three-story wall that is built through the course of the concert.  While I kinda understood what “The Wall” was about, I really bought tickets to see rock and roll history at Wrigley Field.  I had no idea that this show – and now listening to the album over and over – would question and reflect on how I was mourning the loss of Lisa. 

Heading in to see this show, I would say I know about five songs from off the album. Never once did I equate any of them to my situation. Yet, it’s a 39 second lead-in track that made me stop and think how I was living my life. The title of this track is called “Empty Spaces” and these are the only words in it.

What shall we use to fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?
How should I fill the final places?
How should I complete the wall?

Empty spaces.  That’s what I was left with after Lisa died.  Plenty of empty spaces… Where we used to talk...  Before seeing this show, I never looked at it that way; wasn’t able to pinpoint the problem.  I had empty spaces that needed filling.  My time, conversations, memories trips, etc... These were going to have to be filled up.  How would I fill those empty spaces, what choices would I make, positive or destructive?

What moves me the most about this album is the concept of:  All in all it's just another brick in the wall.

I wish it were as simple as Lisa died and I built a wall around myself.  A wall built so quickly that it probably is not that stable and could be knocked down fairly easily.  But my wall was built brick by brick; placing each one to block another outside emotion from my vision.  Friends stopped talking to me?  Fine - more bricks on top of my wall - seems like the best way to deal with that loss of friendship.  But then came the day that those very friends started coming around trying communicate. I didn’t even want to reach back out to them, too many bricks blocking my feelings. These bricks I made with anger.  Mad my friends needed time to deal with what to do with me and the loss of my wife.  I lost perspective of the importance of human contact, I couldn’t see over my wall.

The wall was too high, as you can see.
No matter how he tried, he could not break free.
And the worms ate into his brain

My wall started the year Lisa and her mother were both dying of cancer in 2008 (Deena would pass away in April, Lisa in July).  Deena’s first ex-husband, who I never met, got wind of what was happening and flew in from Florida. “Are we happy with the doctors?” being one of the first comments he made to me. “We? Who are we?  I’m happy with the doctors”, I thought to myself, immediately throwing bricks on the ground to get something up fast. 

After 20 plus years of being out of sight, he was looking to integrate himself into the family. My daughters were still very young and they thought grandpa was Deena’s second ex-husband.  When I informed ex # 1 that now would not be the time to tell the girls “Oh by the way, this surprise visit is by your biological grandfather. Any other life changes I can throw your way?”   He was not happy and later hit me with, “Well, you’re the one blocking my grandchildren from me.”  I knew then the only way to get through handling the aspects of a mother-in-law and wife dying at the same time, in the same house (we moved in with Lisa’s mom 5 years prior to help with her cancer) was to turn off some of my emotions.

I knew there was a train of pain coming down the tracks.  If I was going to deal with this and survive, part of my personality would have to go away.  I had to keep moving, I had kids who were losing their mother, had a new baby coming less than three months away, and a wife who would die a few months after that.  I would have to change my personality to handle this; I would have to start building a wall if I was going to function.

Hello, is there anybody in there?

Come on, now, I hear you're feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again.

I can't explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb

 (Love that line from above, I can't explain, you would not understand. This is not how I am.)

Once Lisa passed, I was dealing with loss and trying to rejoin “normal” life activities. I felt like the kid at a prom without a date.  It amazes me how many adverse feelings we feel that can be traced to the simplest emotion, fear.  I was scared out of my mind about everything.  Can I keep going?  Can I raise my kids?  Can I live with myself for all the decisions I made during Lisa’s death?  So many questions about the future…

Mother, do you think they'll like this song?
Mother, do you think they'll try to break my balls?

Questions for which I didn’t know the answer, so the question that seemed like the best idea…

Mother, should I build the wall?

I specifically remember having that conversation with myself. I told myself that my life is simply one of function now.  I need to live for my children and I need to forget improving my life.  There is too much pain, too many memories, too many questions (fears) for me to try and live a fulfilling life.  No need to make new friends, no need to take classes to learn something new, no need to form new relationships.  The world can be a hurtful all-you-can-eat buffet and I’ve already had multiple plates of food.  I can function, but I will be miserable.  I even read up on Abraham Lincoln who was successful and yet led a miserable life.   Yes, this was a great idea!  I figured out how I was going to live my life…

Goodbye cruel world,
I'm leaving you today.
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Goodbye, all you people,
There's nothing you can say
To make me change my mind.

I found it easy to use the wall as a crutch and I was quick to put anyone or anything that seemed like a threat for me to experience feelings of an almost human nature. This will not do.

So up against my wall they would go…

There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me,
Get him up against the wall.
There's one smoking a joint!
And another with spots!
If I had my way,
I'd have all of you shot!

I’ve written in one of my previous blogs about the time period where I hated myself, beating myself up for not being a “good enough” parent or person.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my isolation was starting to wear on me, I was behind a wall and the worms (mental decay) were working its magic.

Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall
Waiting for the worms to come.
In perfect isolation here behind my wall
Waiting for the worms to come.

At some point I had enough and knew I was living an emotionally unhealthy lifestyle.  A mindset that is not sustainable.  This understanding might have helped me knock down a couple of bricks, but not enough for me to fully engage.  With my new realization came the fears and regrets of moving forward.  Did I lose my opportunity to move on?  Have I pushed away too many people?  Can I really start over at age 42 or am I too late…

There must be some mistake
I didn't mean to let them
Take away my soul.
Am I too old, is it too late?,
Will I remember the song?
The show must go on.

These thoughts held me back from fully committing to making a positive choice.  Do I really want to lose my best excuses for trying (trying) to get back into the world?  I know it didn’t mean I’m over the grief, but it meant I’d be vulnerable to getting hurt again.  It’s not an easy fence to straddle.  So there I sat at Wrigley Field, as one of the final songs called, “The Trail” blared in front of me.

The evidence before the court is incontrovertible
There's no need for the jury to retire.

Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.
Tear down the wall!
Tear down the wall!

The judge is right.  No need for the jury to retire.  The wall has to come down.  It doesn’t work.  No matter how angry you are, how put-out you feel, how wronged you believe you’ve been treated, how maddening it is to watch happily married people, how pissed you are at what people say to you, how nobody else understands what you are dealing with… building a wall doesn’t work.  Sooner or later, the worms will come and mental isolation will take its toll.

For Pink, one of the first bricks he builds is when his dad dies overseas fighting in the war.  He wrote these lyrics and even though they might mean something different for him, when I heard them, it meant something else for me.  What Roger Waters sang was…

Daddy's flown across the ocean
Leaving just a memory.
Daddy, what d'ya leave behind for me?
All in all it was just a brick in the wall

What I heard was…

Lisa's gone to the great beyond
Leaving just a memory.
Lisa, what d'ya leave behind for me?

I sat up all night thinking of what Lisa left behind for me.  Not only three beautiful girls, but she left me with all the tools to keep going out there and putting myself in position to get hurt again with friends, family, and new relationships.  She wanted me to keep living, she wanted to me to keep failing and trying again.

It’s a very difficult and hurtful world out there and we are given plenty of bricks to build walls around ourselves.  I think I’ll take mine and make a patio to throw a party.  I’ll build a fireplace in the middle, a bar off to the right, seats in a circle, and no walls.  That way, people can enter from all sides.

Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all.
Together we stand, divided we fall.


  1. ...I think I’ll take mine and make a patio to throw a party. ....

    Oh I love that one! I am taking that image into me. Awesome. Thank you matthew.

  2. What a beautiful, honest post Matt. Thanks for sharing. I'm just down the street (moving from Skokie to glenview soon) if you want help with "construction." my girls are 3.

  3. Mathew, I can really relate to what you say in this blog. I was also dealing with the death of my mother in law and about 6 months later my husband died. All of this happened and his two siblings did nothing to help with their monther, neither did they come to their brothers memorial service and I was left to deal with taking care of and selling their mother's house for 2 years, while taking care of my own and two typical difficult teenagers! I too built walls, because I have felt like everyone neeeded something from me and was not giving back. Even our friends at somepoint like yours stopped calling- they were dependant upon my late husband who organized and setup times together. I did intitate the plans for a while, but I have gone resentful of doinng it, because here I am alone, no partner unlike them,yet give more work as the person who needs to arrange and plan the get together with friends, unfair totally! I am only now beginninng to realize that I must create the new life I want, reguardless of what others do or do not do.But at times I am still angry that others do not get it! I am at some point hoping to find a widower who does and can be the 2nd love of my life.

  4. Love this for the metaphor you've built that applies to so many of us. But it also touches my heart because this album was one of the first I listened to with my new boyfriend, who would become the beloved husband who died three years ago. I remember sitting on the floor in his living room, drinking wine by candlelight and listening to this album that he wanted to share with me. I'd forgotten that memory. Interesting how the album has come full circle with such a great message from you. I know I need to work on letting my wall crumble. Thank you for the inspiration.

  5. All alone, or in twos,
    The ones who really love you
    Walk up and down
    Outside the wall.

    Some hand in hand
    And some gathered together in bands.
    The bleeding hearts and artists
    Make their stand.

    And when they've given you their all
    Some stagger
    And fall
    After all it's not easy
    Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall.

  6. Thank you for part two!
    Made new memories by taking my 12 & 14 year old to the show Friday in Yankee stadium. I spent the last several years making memories that did not include my beloved husband so I have Something to talk about that does not include memories of him-which could be totally off puting to new relationships. The wall is slowly coming down completely - the barbecue and hot tub are open again for entertaining....ACE

  7. Ace, I never thought about the fact that I've been making new memories without my beloved late husband for the past 18 months. I'm thinking about dating and I feel like all I have to talk about is the 30 years I spent with him. I forgot that I've gone on living for the past 18 months without him. I've traveled alone, done home improvements projects, attended social events. I guess I do have more to talk about.

    And, Matt, these were great posts. Long, but well worth the read! I have wonderful friends who have stuck by me, even though I've not been very diligent about returning calls or getting together with them. They hang in there and spend time with me when I feel like it. I, too, have put up a wall. I call it self-preservation. I feel like it's slowly coming down. Guess I'll need to build something new with those bricks!

  8. I think that trying to knock down you wall, however you find the best approach to do it, will provide a valuable exercise for you, both mentally and emotionall. Some bricks may still need to stay in place for awhile, but others you can gladly lose now -- it is time for some of them to move along. I am starting just now to chip away at mine, but it is a big wall. Let us know how your attempt goes. And remember, recycled brick can be sued in a lovely way for other purposes...