Two Judy’s

A Judy sits on each of my shoulders like a Chagall painting. One is public, the other more private. Public Judy posts on Facebook about how hiking among the Sugaros helps her face her losses. Private Judy has been drafted against her will into an army of grief and uses the intimacy of her blog to help her process. Each Judy whispers messages that combine inside my ear: “Enjoy your days in nature, your evening out with friends, but don’t sleep well at night and don’t forget to wake yourself up sad at 6 a.m.”

I spent today with Ellen on an inadvertent five hour hike through the most gorgeous of deserts. We spent yesterday at the Arizona desert museum, followed by climbing up to look at petroglyphs in the Saguaro national forest. In the evening I sat in Arthur’s jacuzzi to watch the sun set crimson and peach behind those very mountains we’d hiked that afternoon, followed by dinner with Ellen, Arthur plus my friend and Cuba author Tom Miller. ( More news on Tom after jan 11). So there Ellen and I were, two merry widows enjoying old friends at a dinner I found both politically and gastronomically stimulating. At the same time Private Judy whispered in my ear that when I get back to Berkeley I’ll walk into a house empty of my loving mammal. No David to talk to about the fun I’ve had, just a smiling photograph in my living room. Upstairs a genial Stew stares down at me from Bell Chevigny’s oil painting with love as well in his blue eyes.

I want to re-learn how to enjoy life even though it can feel at times as empty as my bed. Still, I’m trying to keep the faith with what both David and Stew said to me before each died, “Judy, everything will be all right.”

Shock doctrine

I am in shock about David’s death. I don’t know why this feels like such a momentous realization but it does. Shock explains why I wake up breathing in short gasps, unable to get my breath back, while my top and bottom teeth are clenched so tight I can feel every molar. The muscles on my left side that connect my head to my shoulder are stretched as tight as the bow string I used to pull when I’d play at being Robin Hood as a kid. As I recall my grandmother Ida made me a forest green Robin Hood outfit complete with tights and top with pointy fringes so I could pretend to rob from the rich and give to the poor; one of the brighter moments of my childhood which, thanks to the tender ministrations of my alcoholic mother, also left me with a mild case of PTSD. Not just experiencing physical symptoms but the realization I am in shock about David’s death gives me a level of sadnesses and understanding it took six weeks and hiking among the Saguaros to reach. Will I now be able to relax and oh yes please to rest?


I hate to complain but it’s a mad/sad morning

I have two empty hours until I get on BART for SFO to land by end of day in Tucson.  I’m sad and angry. Hate it, hate it hate it. I know it’s not his fault but I’m angry at David for dying. Might as well be angry at Stew too while I’m at it.  I want to wallow in my sorrow, to feed like a vampire on my anger. Fuck this “being” shit. I’m gonna “do”. Maybe go read. No. I’ m gonna go walk at the Marina. To change my chemistry.

Much better now. I even saw a hawk.

Small losses plus a trip

Every little loss reminds me of my big one.  I sign into the
Kaiser website from my personal computer and David’s name pops up as a log in. I write ” David Dobkin is deceased, please remove his name from your list” on our contribution forms for KPFA, the ACLU,  Shotgun Theater and the Rosenberg Fund for Children.  I add in memory of David Dobkin to the checks I write. My handwriting is worse than usual; shaky but determined, reminding me of what I’d see on
end-of-year gifts to Planned Parenthood from older widows. I don’t want to admit it but I’m one of them now.

Even impersonal encounters provoke memory. I return a telephone switch to the hardware store. I have no receipt; David must have bought this long before we married. The cashier doesn’t question but I do – what home improvement project, never fulfilled, prompted David to buy it?  I can also be surprised: a stranger at a crafts fair looks me in the eye, gives me a hug & her condolences.  I have no idea who she is and am too embarrassed to ask.

I use an ancient ‘need to know’ principle I learned from my Communist parents to budget  my emotional energy for these interactions. I tell the receptionist at my dentist’s office for a functional reason: she needs to take David off her patient list. “I’m sorry for your loss” she says and I believe her. The dental tech gives me a cheery and generic “how are you” greeting. I default to “fine” even though it’s a lie.  Why shock someone when lack of intimacy dictates there’s no need?  I do tell my  East Indian dentist.  “David?” she  asks, remembering her patient’s name, dismay imprinted on her gorgeous face.   Most people I choose to tell act as my dentist does:  they reach out in sympathy but then go back to business. As they should. And so the little losses of my life continue without David.

I leave tomorrow with Ellen for a week at Arthur Naiman’s place in Tucson, a house with three guest bedrooms and a jacuzzi that overlooks the city and its mountains. I first met Arthur in 1968, he had just invented the LBJ dartboard. Arthur went on to write and self-publish The MacIntosh Bible at the moment Mac computers hit the market. I go to visit Arthur when my husbands die. I went with Jessica after Stew, now it’s David’s turn. I want to be among the Saguaros, with their prickly arms that reach in supplication toward a blue Georgia O’Keefe sky. After Stew died, walking with these gentle giants made me smile my first smile. It had been, as I recall, a very long time. Right now I’m pretty confident I’ll find again the healing power of the Saguaros; this time for David.


Being and Do It

At 6 a.m I’m awake . I hate this.  My brain has dissolved into the mush of the sleep deprived but I can’t get back to sleep.  I didn’t even take my 1/2 Xanax last night. Xanax only lasts 5 hours . Which means I’ll wake up whether or not I take it. My issue isn’t falling asleep but getting up too early.

Karen my therapist says I need to find a balance between being and doing. By which she means I need to take enough time to stay with my grief when it  bubbles up, to locate where it is in my body and recognize that, if my eyes are sore, my hands and jaw are clenched tight and my heart feels like it’s encased in ice, I must  be grieving.

I’m an activist. I don’t do “being” well. To “do” is easier and more comfortable than to “be” with what I feel. With Stew’s death, I had a fight or flight response.  I started out numb that devolved into paralysis to be replaced at great speed with doing.  Like Jerry said, I’d Do It. Disregarding traditional wisdom that widows should not make big decisions in the first year, within nine months I moved out of 5204 Wisteria with its four bedrooms, memories of Stew and Jessica growing up and a winter heating bill of $800 a month. I held a two-day yard sale that ended with an Abbie Hoffman Memorial Free Store, put those items I thought I could not live without in storage, quit my job at Planned Parenthood and moved from Portland back to Berkeley with its community of support: Jessica and a cohort of 1960s friends.  All “doing.” And, as it turned out, all right decisions.

With David’s death, It’s different. I thought that being a double widow would work to my advantage: I’d know what to expect.  But now I’m not so sure. I’m impatient.  And goal oriented. I want to be  done with grieving .  But no amount of doing it will get me past death’s pain this time around. My therapist is right. Even though I tell myself I don’t know how, I need to take the time just to be with my grief for David and, yes,  also for Stew.  Or am I just waiting for the sun to rise so I have an excuse to do by dragging myself exhausted out of bed at 6 a.m.?

UPDATE # 1 – Writing (in bed, on my iPhone) allowed me to go back to sleep.  I awoke at 8: a.m., much revived.

UPDATE # 2:  ON MY PREVIOUS POST: Yesterday I picked up the print of David’s picture, framed it in black wood from Thailand and placed it on the antique French wood desk I inherited from my mother. Now I can I see  David’s beatific smile and watch his eyes follow  me across my living room. When Jessica was a child, she’d look up at Stew’s and my poster of Che Guevara whose eyes stared down at her aflame with the zeal of revolution and ask, “Who is that man watching us eat?” Not that David modeled himself after Che, but I can’t help but look at David’s photo and ask, “Who is that man watching me re-make my life?” Then, to use a phrase I’m getting truly sick of, I tear up.

We’ll talk soon

1-2014-01-30 19.44.40 (3) I slept well last night. I woke up once at 5 a.m. then slept again. I had decided to stop waiting for David to talk to me, like Stew used to after he died. I must be a visual person. Images help trigger conversations with my beloved but sadly dead husbands. Framed photos of Stew hang in my office – including an oil painting done by a friend but if I want to talk to David it turns out I need more than ashes in a black box.  Perhaps my good sleep came from feeling together enough before I went to bed last night to scroll through my iPhone photo stream and find that picture I took  on David’s 75th birthday, in which he smiles his famous David smile; his lips are as red as if he’d put on lipstick. As I watched the photos march toward present time  like ants across my tiny screen, I David’s lips lost their color, his face beaome more wrinkled and gaunt.  When David was alive, I had neither the courage nor the time to look at photos.  Had I done so, I wonder if I would have picked up on what I can see so clearly after the fact – death imprinting  itself month after month on David’s face.

Its been only 25  days since David died. I’m not even through the 30 day mourning period traditional Judaism gives me. But at least for the moment I’ve stepped off my Macy’s up the down escalator onto a solid floor. I still can’t handle stress in any form but as soon as I get my pictures back from being transerred out of digital to print, I’ll talk with David any time I want.

Jealous of a Ghost

Had a lovely Friday shabbat evening with Joan & Gary, two friends from Portland. But I woke up in the Macy’s basement of my thoughts.  After dinner at the Common House, a woman who has lived  in this community for years said to me: “I see David all over the place. ”  Her intentions were to comfort but instead I got jealous. Immediately after Stew died I’d feel  his presence everywhere. I’d hear his voice in my subconscious encouraging me to do this or warning me not to do that.  Dead Stew would answer back; so far when I talk to David’s ashes I get no response.   David is an absence,  not a presence.

“Visitation” is a corny word; derivative of Hollywood.  If you believe dead people who you’ve loved can talk to you if only in your mind, (which I do) why would David choose to make his presence felt to a woman with whom he had a history of disagreement, but not to me?  So I’m jealous. Of a ghost. Perhaps longevity of relationship has something to do with it but still, my jealously is ridiculous,  right?

Yours is the only blog I read…

Was the compliment my friend Merle gave me last night. We’d had dinner at Belli Osteria then she, Art & I went to see Kathleen Turner in Red Hot Patriot at Berkeley Rep.The politically liberal and brilliant Kathleen Turner fits the Molly Ivins role – and I don’t mean to sound sexist here – like Cinderella’s shoe.  At one point, I found myself conflating the Molly Ivins character who spoke to chapters of the ACLU in Texas with the real-life Kathleen Turner I met once in Portland after my staff and I invited her to speak to major donors at our Planned Parenthood affiliate.  Red Hot Patriot did what I hoped it would: put me back into my former normal life.

Party People was the last show David saw at Berkeley Rep. He loved it.  If I visualize last night’s empty seat beside me, where David always sat, I tear up just a little. I say this often: grieving is not linear. I experience any stage or stages of grief all at the same time.  I learned this at Stew’s death, my guess is I’ll have similar melding with David. In keeping with the season I want to change my metaphor.  I don’t want to ride that roller coaster of emotion or wallow in it like a ship atop the waves; instead I’ll let my feelings travel up and down as if I’d stepped onto that ancient escalator with its slatted wooden steps in  Macy’s on 34th Street.  Today I hope I’m moving upward – and who knows – even forward.

Writing makes me feel better. This turns out to be a medical miracle based in science, at least according to an article my friend Connie e-mailed,

But blogging also has its downside. “I read your blog so I know how you are.  Once I know, maybe then I don’t call,” Merle said last night. That fewer calls from friends could be an outcome of my writing had not occurred to me.  My new normal turns out to have a bunch of empty spaces in its day, especially later in the afternoon. Feel free to call. Compliments are always welcome,  but chatting too is good – except between the hours of 3 and 5 when I nap or walk or talk with Jessica.

On discovering Stew’s old poems

An extreme storm is predicted for tonite and tomorrow. High winds, rain and blackouts. Or so the weather people say.  I’m not surprised, the Weather people always were extremists. Just in case, I dug into my back closet to retrieve the  hurricane lamp Stew and I bought for just such an emergency during Catskill Mountain winters. Along with its glass base and chimney, a white cotton wick and lamp oil, I found five of Stew’s old poems, three written to me and two to Jessica, with wildflowers dried golden brown pressed and preserved inside their wooden frames.

My grief for David is still raw.  To comfort me, more than one person has said it’s a gift to have had two such incredible husbands. I rejected this at first: how could it be gift to go through the pain of not one but two such deaths? I’ve changed my mind, but can’t articulate exactly why as yet.  Some day I want to write about both David and Stew,  focussing not so much on them as men but on the process of their dying.  I’ll keep you posted.

In his later years, Stew would always write a poem for me on my birthday.  Stew must have written this one in June of 2004, when he was going through treatment for Hepatitis C, a year and a half  before he died. It applies equally to David.

The Judy Flag

Crawling upstairs out of breath

like drowning in sad streams

but with high purpose in my stumbling

knowing that

in a room at the top

we are celebrating Judy’s 61st birthday.

I need to give a speech

of appreciation, hope and celebration

proclaiming limitless love.

We are half way through hell

holding up to its flame.


Judy keeps going

with fullest inspiration

Her flag of kavanah

proclaiming the struggle continues forever

and so, boldly,

does she.


Judy’s flag

is why I bother to get out of bed

doing battle in countless wars,

her proud banner

of one more noble year

her great gift

to the stumblers up the stairs.

Let her quiet tears be dried in joy and love.


Right now my Judy flag flies at half-staff, but I hope  to raise it up the flagpole some time in the future; I can’t say when.






The Eagle Has Landed Part 2

Picking up David’s ashes from the funeral home today felt fine. Liberating in fact.  I arrived back home with a tremendous sense of relief.  At last, I had a David I could talk to.

The black box filled with David’s ashes looks a lot like a speaker from a 1980s stereo system; appropriate for a man who spent the first 20 years of his career in the sound business.  Just as I keep a lock of Stew’s blond  curls in an engraved glass box from Mexico, I will hang onto David’s box of ashes until I feel it’s time to transfer some to one of the multitude of baskets I now possess in which Donna kept scraps of fabric with which she made her art.  The rest of David  will be buried next to Donna up in Inverness at the mountain home of friends. Even with the advent of green coffins, cremation is clearly the most ecological way to go.

I chose to wait two weeks and make only one trip to the funeral home.  Delaying may not have been the best decision; at first my sadness returned.  I wondered if observant Jews do it better: stick ’em in the ground within 24 or at most 48 hours & after that start shiva. Then I walked outside to go & get what was left of David. When I told Raines, my neighbor across the path, what I was about to do, he said, “Want some support? I’ll drive.”That’s not a bad idea,” I replied, tearing up. Next Raines’ wife Betsy presented me with a small plush eagle. “The eagle has landed,” she said, reminding me of David’s words after he came downstairs to his hospital bed for the last time.  Living in community, as we say in cohousing, can really help.

My honey now is home. The toy eagle and black box with David’s ashes reside in my living room at the top of one of David’s two CD cabinets. There they will remain to give me peace.