Friday, May 23, 2014

Remembering Ted - Early Days

I can’t remember anymore when I actually met Ted.  He liked to tell people that I was promised to him in the womb but that was so not true. I think I knew his sister, Helen first and met Ted through her. We both grew up in the same neighborhood.  He lived on 61st street and I lived on 64th street.  3 blocks made no difference—all the kids congregated in the playground which was on 64th street or “the barrels” which were play structures closer to 61st street. 
I know that we were boyfriend and girlfriend in junior high school (now they call it middle school) and I’m sure we knew each other before that.

Ted was one of a trio of boys who hung out together.  There was Ted, Darryl and Gregory—later they were joined by another boy—Luther (called Junior).  What got your attention first was Ted’s walk.  He, Darryl and Gregory would walk down the street together.  They were fast walkers.  Ted had a loose gaited walk—arms flailing all over the place, long stride; Darryl walked on his toes with a bounce and I can’t even remember how Gregory walked but they were all really cute, and when you saw them walking it was like they were in tandem—arms, legs, exponential swagger…

Not only did Ted have a distinctive walk, he was a cool dresser.  He loved fine clothes and shoes.  One of his early jobs was in a shoe store called Feldman’s.  He talked a lot about what he learned about dealing with the public while delivering the beautiful, fine leather shoes that Feldman’s was known for. He worked hard and saved his money.  He was one of the first of our group to get a brand new car and his own apartment in the Bronx complete with the cool 70's beads that hung from the doorway.  He was absolutely too cool for school.

A date with Ted was not just a movie and pizza.  He introduced me to my first play (a play about Jack Johnson the boxer), my first modern dance show (Alvin Ailey).  We went to museums, rode bikes in Central Park (even though I was far from athletic). We did things that other young black kids were not doing.  Ted was always different and so was I—we fit together very well. 

We talked a lot about our dreams—good jobs, a home in the suburbs.  I say we talked a lot but Ted did most of the talking—I was a great listener.  As the years went on I became a better talker—he was always the idea man and I was the implementer.  He could conceive it and I could figure out how to make it happen—He was the 30,000 foot person—I was closer to the ground--the detail person.  Yup, a good match.

We sometimes (no probably many times) butted heads.  I wanted the finer life—fast. Ted wanted the finer life but slowly—save for what you want—don’t charge it.  Somehow we met in the middle after many trips but, thank God, no major falls.  It was a while before I figured out that he was an Aires (the ram) and I was a Taurus (the bull)—of course we would butt heads.  We both wanted things our way. 

Luckily we did meet in the middle and were able to navigate 40 years of marriage with some scars, of course, but no major wounds.  As the years together ticked up, people would ask us what was the secret to a long marriage.  We both figured it out that once we had decided that divorce was no longer an option, everything became easier. In the early days and years of our marriage, I would throw around the “d” word very easily.  I was struggling with the concept of partnership.  I was raised in a single-parent home and my mom made all the rules so I really had no time for making decisions by committee.  Ted was methodical.  No decision was ever made quickly.  His favorite answer to a question was either “No” or “I’ll think about it”, which usually meant “No” also.  This was in the 70’s and I sometimes felt like I was giving up who I was to be a wife—the mother thing I got very easily it was the relationship part that was difficult for me.  Ted often said being a father was the most difficult job for him—for me, in those early days, being a wife was the most difficult part.  I eventually got it figured out that there was a comfortable way to be a wife and still be “me”.  Ted was patient. Even when I continually tried to get the bank to put my name on the top of our joint checks!!!  Those were the things that made me crazy.  Of course, my name never made the top of the checks and soon enough, it made no difference to me.  In the early days it was all about who had the power.  I remember telling Ted if he just admitted that I was the boss, everything would be OK.  Well you know the answer to that!  So we stumbled along and before we knew it, we were coasting.

In the early days I loved to hear Ted talk.  He could talk for hours on so many topics. He had a head for economics, finance, geography and history and was not shy about letting you know what he knew.  In the early days I loved listening—in the middle years—not so much—in the last year when he became silent—I would have given anything to hear him drop his knowledge.  But as our son Lateef said at Ted's funeral, I think he had talked enough—there was no more to be said.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Does Legacy Mean?

On January 24, 2014 I lost my husband, Ted. We were married for 40 years and had grown up in the same neighborhood. He was my best friend. Ted waged a valiant battle against duodenal cancer. From diagnosis to his death was a short 10 months. On February 28, 2014, I lost my son, Lateef to the complications of gran mal seizures. He was 41 years old and left a  wife and 2 daughters, 8 and 13 years old. I was devastated.

I've been thinking a lot about legacy lately.  What does the word legacy mean to you—how important is it? I’ve attended many corporate trainings where we were asked to write the obituary we’d like to have written about us. It was one of my favorite exercises because it made me think about the type of person I wanted to be. So it’s not like I never thought about legacy before but now, it has a much deeper meaning.

 Legacy is what one leaves behind. Ted struggled with the concept of legacy and though he was sure that part of his legacy was the children he left behind, he had a tendency to think that if he wasn’t financially successful he really had nothing of great value to leave behind—I’m not sure what Lateef thought about legacy because we never discussed it but I do know that he took his job as father very, very seriously. My thought is that legacy has nothing to do with money or success. Even those of limited means leave behind a legacy—a mark on those left behind.

 I was telling my grief counselor that I have been interested in death and dying since I was in my 40’s—read Elizabeth Kubler Ross and other authors on my own and for no other reason than that I was interested in the strength that it took to deal with loss and grief. So, I said to him, I should know how to deal with this. His answer? Reading the recipe for a cake is not the same as baking it! Simple and so, so true. I was not prepared for the double-barreled pain of losing my husband and son within 5 weeks of each other. One would be bad enough, but two—unbelievable! What it has done is encouraged me to think more deeply about legacy, Ted’s and Lateef’s and what I’d like my legacy to be.

 My husband, Ted, lived a good life and has left his mark on so many people. He was healthy and loved working out. He loved children and was a Big Brother to two little boys who needed a positive male role model in their life. He loved photography and leaves thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of pictures to remember him by. Someone just called me the other day to discuss putting together a retrospective of Ted’s pictures—a big project but one that we will complete—in time. He was the extrovert to my introvert; the right brained creative thinker to my left brained organized thinker. He was the idea man—I was the implementer. He was the Aires Ram--I the Taurus Bull so we locked horns on many occasions but through all of that, we were a great couple—complementing each other. He loved travel and were it not for him, I would not have traveled to Europe (including Iceland), South Africa, Central America and many Caribbean islands. He was a mentor to many and has inspired us to travel, learn about other cultures, and be fiscally responsible. His life meant something. I hate that he only lived 67 years but he really packed a lot into those years. We were so very happy those last 7 years after retiring from Northern California to Huntersville, North Carolina and for that, I am grateful.

My son, Lateef was 41 when he passed away. He was a fun loving man who wrote for a living. Not many people can do what they love and get paid for it.  Lateef was a journalism major and loved writing. He made friends wherever he went—he was the peacekeeper and could always make you laugh—no matter how low in spirits you might be. His legacy? He’s left behind a wealth of articles, essays and videos completed while he was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and CNN. He’s left behind a family (2 children included) and a host of friends who remember him fondly, will never forget him, and try to incorporate his love of life and his love of laughter into their lives.

 I don’t pretend to understand why these kinds of things happen but I do believe that bad circumstances like this can provide opportunity for growth. So, one of the things I’m doing is looking at what kind of legacy I’d like to leave. Another thing I’m doing is remembering Ted and Lateef in my blog. They are forever in my heart.  This is, indeed, a journey.  If you're interested, I could use the company--come along with me.