Sunday, May 30, 2010

Understanding the Widow Mind. Yeah. Even We Don't Get It.

I posted this question on the Widow Chick Facebook page and after I did, it got me to thinking. I love it when I do that to myself!

The question was, “Do you ever run into times when it seems like other WIDOWS don’t understand you?” And after I thought about for awhile, I realized yes. Yes I have. Actually a lot.

I think a lot of times we assume, since we have all had this experience, that anyone who has shared it automatically knows what we have been through. But when you really think about it…that’s pretty unrealistic. Even though we have all experienced loss, there is no way we have all gone through it the same way. It would be like assuming that even though you have a license, you automatically know how to parallel park my semi.

I remember attending my first young widows support group a few months after my husband died and getting a glimpse as to how we all go through this differently. I will admit, since the loss was pretty fresh at the time, I was kind of surprised that I wasn’t able to walk into this group and that everyone there would completely understand how I felt.

It’s kind of like, the bones are there, but when you really dig deep, you start to see where the similarities end.

An obvious difference I think we have is when it comes to dating and the right time to date. One of the first people I met in that group had lost her husband years earlier and hadn’t even considered dating. Another went on a date a few months after her spouse died. You could just see the wordless exchange between those two people. One thinking, “You’re going to date? Is he even cold yet?” And the other one thinking, “You haven’t gotten any in five years??”

Then there’s the financial differences. When one person has been fiscally devastated by this loss and the other finds herself in the awkward position of being set up for life. The one who’s a little better off can’t quite understand why the other one can’t take a weekend at a hotel to get her head together and the one who sweats every time she looks at her bank balance can’t understand why the other one’s toes look so great all of the time.

And…ah yes. The biggie. The whopper.

The ones who have kids and the ones who don’t.

I don’t think anything divides a widow group more than kids. Actually…that’s probably true of most social situations. Because those of us who have kids, can’t help but link everything back to them. We really shouldn’t be blamed for it. I mean, they’re our joys, our whole world, and the reason we’ll end up in assisted living before the people who don’t have kids. But I often put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have children. We have to be an annoying bunch.

Sooner or later the crowd at Happy Hour gets divided down the bar. With those of us sweating out how we are going to get through this experience without raising potential pyro-klepto-maniacs and those who are either disappointed that they weren’t able to have kids before their spouse died or happily decided that that option just wasn’t for them.

Either way…it’s a big difference.

I think what we all share is a general understanding. But to tap into a widow who completely understands everything you’ve done based on your own timeline and thinks, “Wow! I’ve done the exact same thing” …that’s a pretty rare find.

What it should do, after awhile and a little distance from our own loss, is give us an extra dose of compassion. We may not understand why she’s allowing her mother-in-law to live with her, years after her spouse died, but that’s based on our own relationship with our mother-in-law. We may not get why someone decided to bury ashes right away when we can’t imagine taking them off the mantel, but that’s a very personal decision. We can’t figure out why someone wouldn’t move from a house that is so completely wrong for them and this new life that’s been handed to them, but we may not have all the facts as to why they’ve decided to do that.

Losing a spouse, or just loss in general, is personal and charged with emotions and strong feelings. Most of us spend entire days just pent up with the tornado of feelings we have inside of us. It would be wrong if those emotions turned into intolerance just because we don’t 100% get why other widows are making the decisions they are. And just remember…if you completely lose it on another widow…well…you can’t pull the widow card on another widow. So you better watch it if you want to get invited back to Happy Hour.

Personally, I would direct them at my mother-in-law if she lived with me. But…again…that’s my decision.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day: When Grief Won't Let Us Have A Long Weekend

For those of us loss professionals, going into Memorial Weekend…well…it kind of sucks.

The people we know don’t realize how hard it actually is. The difficulty of this holiday is not as obvious as Christmas. It’s not as heart-wrenching as a birthday. But just because someone wasn’t born or resurrected on this day…it still blows.

Any holiday that is considered “family time” is a speed-bump. Actually ANYTHING that’s considered family time is a speed-bump. This can include something as simple as sitting down to dinner together or taking a Sunday drive. Family time for us just points out that there is something glaringly wrong with our picture. Something huge is missing. For most of the people we know, they’re just looking forward to a day off. Very few people realize…we never get a day off. Grief is a boss that works us 24/7 and overtime on holidays.

When we gather with our friends and family, we all (I think) go through dreaded moments when we’re uncomfortable. We stand there alone (even if we are surrounded by people) and feel kind of at a loss for what to do with ourselves now that our spousal appendage is gone. It’s awkward for us even if everyone else doesn’t give it a second thought. And I have bad news…I’ve been at this game for 3 years and I still feel that way. I’ve gotten better at jollying everyone along because no one likes a grumpy widow at their bar-b-que but inside I’m ready to ditch the whole party and snuggle up with Ben & Jerry (yeesh…that sounded kind of slutty, didn’t it?).

Now, I didn’t start this blog as a pity-party. I’m not trying to get us all to feel sorry for ourselves. The reality of life has been handed to us in one beautifully wrapped, ticking box and now we’ve just got to lump it. What I am going to do, is suggest something that could possibly make this weekend a little better.

Change your tradition.

If what you’ve done in the past is get together with your well-intentioned family and friends to celebrate a family day…skip it. Do what you want to do. And in the future, when someone asks you over to a bar-b-que, you can just say, “You know what? I can’t! It’s so crazy how Memorial Day always falls on Take Your Widowed Ass to the Spa Day and I just can’t make it!”

I realize this gets more complicated when you have children, but that could be even better. When they ask you if you and the kids want to come over for the festivities, you can say, “Oh wow. I already have plans. But I’m sure my kids would love to come over and spend time with you guys! Thanks for offering!”

Just make sure they’re well sun-screened before you drop them off.

I know what I’m suggesting is probably not possible for everyone. I’m just saying…don’t feel so damn obligated to everyone. Take a break. Do the closest thing you can do to getting a day off…everyone else is. Put your creative juices to work. Come up with something that will help you get through the day. Don’t feel like you have to accept all 5 party invitations when all you want to do is dive into a bucket of popcorn in a dark theater somewhere and not talk to one person.

Just make sure you send your buddies a nice thank you note for watching the kids for 12 hours.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Time For Everything and Everything in Its' Time

You’re catching me in the act of stealing. I’m stealing this idea from a fellow widow, blogger, and all around good gal (thank you, Supa Freshwidow) who recently posted an article about a parent covering up the details of the death of the other parent.(

Did I just say that right?

Anyway, it started some interesting dialogue about what should and should not be disclosed to young children about the death of a parent.

For me, my kids were REALLY young when my husband died. Like…borderline babies. Actually, one of them was a baby. So for me to tell them every little detail of what happened really didn’t seem appropriate. I told them that their dad hurt his head (he had a stroke after being involved in an accident) and died.

At the time, that explanation seemed sufficient enough.

But even with that explanation, I had to be veeeery careful. Most of you recognize what a delicate balance this is. I didn’t want them to think that every time they bump their heads on the playground that they might die. I didn’t want to get in a fender-bender and have them panic and think they aren’t going to make it. And I didn’t want to make them afraid of life.

Now, by being a little general, I’m not lying to my kids. I’m not telling them that he decided to go live in the country like their pet hamster or anything. I’m using what I like to call “age appropriate honesty.” I tell them what I think their little brains can handle.

And then I leave it up to them to ask the next question.

For years, my explanations have been enough. For my oldest, she seemed satisfied that things happen. I’ve had that child in enough preventative therapy over the years that she’s probably able to counsel my own therapist. For my youngest, she seems to have a connection with her dad that constantly astounds me since she was only 18 months old when he died.

I run into problems with my son.

My son, my beautiful middle child, has the most amazing mind. I know this because it’s not mine. It’s all his dad. He is freaky smart (not me), a math whiz (really not me), and needs a good explanation as to how things happen and why (a little me). We’ll just be riding in the car and he’ll calmly ask, “So, was there a lot of blood on the road when Daddy had his accident?”

Yeah…where’s my drive-thru daiquiri stand when I need it?

I kind of know the way his mind works and that he’s not asking because he’s upset. He’s not asking because he’s scared. He’s asking because his little brain needs some details and he wants to put some pieces to a puzzle together that he lost the lid for and doesn’t quite know how the final outcome is supposed to look.

Now, these questions always catch me off-guard. And my daughters seem happy enough to not know the answer. But, for him, I answer them as calmly and truthfully as I think a 6 year old boy can handle. I don’t go into a lot of detail, but I recognize the fact that this is important to him. I don’t lie. I don’t skirt the issue. And some day…in his own time...that puzzle will come together.

I can recognize the fact that my daughters, for the time being, seem okay with the status-quo. I’m waiting and I think I'm as prepared as I can be for that dam to break, but so far we seem to be doing okay.

But my son…he needs to work through this.

We have all dealt with loss and how that’s affected our kids in different ways. Some kids were there for the death of a parent…whether it was sudden or slow. Some kids weren’t and will always be searching for the mental image of those final moments. And all of our kids will forever wonder how this could have happened…just as we ask ourselves that question every day.

For those of you with teenagers who struggle together with the questions of why and how…I can’t imagine what you go through. My heart especially goes out to those dads who lost their spouses when their daughters were entering the teen years. Those years are a mystery to everyone and to throw something like this in the mix…well…I wish you were getting paid time and a half.

For my friends who are dealing with their children who are adults but will always be their babies…again…I can’t imagine what you’re going through. To try and figure out how to go on and still be a safe harbor for your kids to come home to…that’s a whole other beast.

The bottom line is that there is NO good way (or good time) to lose a parent. Who that parent was and what could have been will always be a piece of the puzzle that’s missing. And it’s up to us to figure out, behind any question, what our kids are really asking. What their needs are at the time. What we can say to not frighten, but also not sugarcoat the realities of life and death while our kids slowly digest the answer.

And let them know that, whatever happens, we will always be their honest answer.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Holding Our Own in the Court of Public Opinion

On my commute to work this morning (by which I mean my walk down to my basement office), I started wondering about something that seems to be a common theme with all of us widows: The ability to overcome what other people think of us.

When our spouses die, the surrounding public seems to think it’s their right…no…their duty to tell us how things should be done. They watch as we bumble our way into a somewhat normal existence after our lives have been completely turned upside down. The people we know patiently wait until we “get our acts together” and get back to business as usual.

Little do they know…we have decided to close that business in order to go forth like a hippie in the 60s on a journey of self-discovery.

We get a lot of advice from the people we know about what we should do, how we should live, and the decisions we should be making. Now, realistically speaking…these people usually don’t have a leg to stand on. Most of our friends and family have never raised children completely alone. They’ve never dated in later in life. And most have never faced the hole that we now find in our lives.

In the face of all of these helpful tips, I’m reminded of some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from my therapist: Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary. There is no reason why you “should” stop grieving at a certain point, even though some people expect you to. There is no reason why you “should” spend your life alone, even if it’s hard for others to watch you date. And there’s no reason why you “should” expect your life to go back to normal when deep down you know it won’t.

Our sense of normal has completely changed. The way we make decisions has completely changed. Most of us now make choices with the little voice of our spouse ringing in our ears. And it’s hard enough to think, “Well, what would he (or she) have wanted me to do if he was here?”
We certainly don’t need the added complication of wondering what everyone else thinks.

I think most of the people we know expect that there will be a time of transition from being married to being widowed. What most people don’t understand is the change that occurs within us. It would be impossible to go through this kind of loss and come out as the same person. I personally think that the changes are good. We become more sympathetic to others and have a better understanding of what they might be going through. We are (hopefully) less likely to say stupid and thoughtless things just to fill dead air. And, thanks to the way we have been scrutinized, we are less likely to truly pass judgment on others.

I know that I’m a completely different person than I used to be. I may walk and talk the same, but my thought processes are completely different. That girl who would have been completely happy being a homemaker while she watched her husband’s career take off has left the building. The girl who so deeply cared about what everyone else thinks has taken a permanent vacation. The girl who couldn’t make a decision before she asked 10 other people their opinions is on a freighter to China and we’re not really sure when she’ll be back.

That’s right everybody. That person that you went to high school with and college with or have spent every holiday with since she was born has changed. It’s not a bad thing. I think it’s pretty natural. Very few people have the opportunity, early in life, to really look at things…where we’re going, what we’re doing, and what the hell the point all of this is anyway…and decide what’s truly important. Loss cracks open a door and gives us a glimpse of what is important in life. Some people choose to kick the door open and see what’s really possible and some people just quietly close it so as not to disturb anybody.

Most people won’t benefit from this kind of self discovery until they’re much older. Think of it this way…what we have been through, everyone will go through at some point in their lives. It is impossible to get through life without a taste of tragedy. We just happen to be overachievers and have gone through it first.

The good news for all of the people we know is that they’ll have a friend who will not say a damn word about what they’re doing when that happens.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at! 

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wondering About the Wonder Years

As I get closer to summer vacation, I find myself in a confused state. Am I relieved? Am I dreading it? Should I take off without leaving a forwarding address?

What to do?

Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy spending quality time with my kids. And I can’t wait to have the possibility of sleeping in until 7 AM. But as they get older, I find that that it’s harder and harder to please everyone. I’m not entirely sure, but I think this all started when they began walking and talking. The first kid…I couldn’t wait to get up and running. By the time the third one rolled around, I was just about ready to duct tape her little onesie to the carpet.

As the years roll on, I get nostalgic for that 2 week period they each seemed to have when they could sit up as babies and not go anywhere. Just plop ‘em in the middle of the floor with a 24 hour loop of Baby Einstein and they’re good to go. And if they start speaking Spanish due to the educational tapes I’ve exposed them to…all the better. I’ve heard whining sounds more poetic in a foreign language.

These days it seems like if I take them to the water park, one is disappointed that he didn’t get to go to the zoo. If we play in the sprinklers, someone is mad because the backyard is wet and she wanted to play baseball. And, unfortunately, none of them seem to want to do what I want to do which is hole up in a 5 star hotel with some wine and a good book.

Activities have become a hassle too. Since there is only one of me and three of them (not very good odds), we are all forced to go to the activities of the other ones. The girls have no option but to sit through T-Ball practice. My son has to muddle through an hour of watching ballet. And they all have to sit around while I drink my glass of wine and read a good book.

Are you starting to see a pattern?

My ability to tune out everyone in the backseat has become almost super-power strength. If you ever pull up next to a woman at a stoplight who seems to be humming with her hands over her ears…that’s me. If she looks like she’s rocking back and forth in a catatonic state…well…that’s still me.

I personally think the makers of minivans are missing out on one very important feature: That window separator thingy that limos have. When they start in on each other you could just roll that sucker up and let them have at it. People would look at your shaking car mysteriously as you just sat calmly in the driver's seat, blissfully unaware of what was going on behind you.

Think of how handy that would be in the teenage years.

I may have a home, but I still live in my car. I spent 4 years in college when really all I needed was 4 months of drivers ed. Every once in awhile, I want to just round my kids up, get in their faces, and say, “I used to be somebody! I used to plan million dollar meetings! I had business cards and my own extension! I used to brush my hair in the morning and wear clothes that needed to be dry cleaned!”

But something tells me that they would be more impressed if I told them I used to drive an ice cream truck.

I often wonder if things would be different if my husband were here. Would I still be getting pulled in 3 different directions (actually 4, because during all of these activities he would probably be telling me he’d invited 10 people over for dinner)? Or would things be easier having someone here to put on a tutu while I laced up some cleats? Would there still be the same level of frustration, only doubled?

Would the activities be different because he would be here to influence them? Would my daughter be racing go-carts instead of taking a pottery class? Would my son be on a 4-wheeler instead of taking a class on rock climbing? Would I be less afraid that my 4 year old might turn out to be a menace to society if I had more back-up?

More importantly…would I have someone here to pour me a glass of wine?

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This is going to start out as a confusing story. But stick with me for a minute. I have a point…I promise.

Awhile back I found myself in the annoying situation of having lost my driver’s license. I reasoned with myself that it really wasn’t that big of a deal…I was due to renew next month anyway. But, as you all know, any time you find yourself sitting in the uncomfortable plastic chairs at the DMV, clutching your number like it’s the key to heaven…well, it’s a minor irritation.

Of course, I found my driver’s license the day that the new one arrived. Not thinking twice about it, I just threw my old one right next to my new one. Besides the obvious difference of a few pounds and a different haircut, they looked pretty much the same (although I think my skin looks better in the new one…BONUS!).

And then I really looked. And I saw it.

That young woman in the old picture didn’t know what was getting ready to happen. She had no idea that just a couple of years after that picture was taken, her life would change and she would never be the same. The information on the new and old cards were the same…same address, same height, always an organ donor. But the woman was completely different.

The new one had a smile that said she was happy, but didn’t quite reach her eyes. Something said she had lived through an experience she shouldn’t have for a long time. There was a little more worry. A little more sadness. And still a little bit of disbelief.

I find myself looking at old pictures a lot around this time of year. I’ve been doing that since the first anniversary of my husband’s death. I especially look at pictures from the two months before he died. Now, my husband’s death was sudden and very unexpected, but for some reason I look at these pictures as if they’ll have an answer. I look at them and wonder how we could not have known that something so catastrophic was getting ready to happen. How could we have spent the 4th of July with family, blissfully happy and not know that this monster was waiting for us just around the corner.

My therapist has said that this sort of thing is normal. And I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear at least one of the things I’m doing is normal. But it still feels odd to be begging for an answer from my 31 year old self three years later. I know there was no reason for it. I know it was a random accident that could have happened to anyone.

But I’m still waiting for that girl to give me an answer.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tell It Like It Is

One of the hardest things about losing my husband was missing the person I felt completely comfortable with. You know…that person you can hang out with in ripped, paint spattered sweatpants with your hair in a scrunchy that you’ve held on to since the 80s. That person who will tell you when you have spinach in your teeth.

That person who will just flat-out say when you’re doing something dumb and you won’t hesitate to extend them the same courtesy.

Now, most people don’t think about this. But when you’re left to start all over, all you’re left with are a lot of people you have to be polite to. And you really don’t miss that level of rude honestly until it’s gone.

Like, I can’t say to my friend, “You’re going out in that?” Or I guess I could but I bet I would find myself friendless before too long. I can’t say to my dog, “For God’s sake, brush your teeth in the morning before you kiss me.” Because she really doesn’t care. And if I’m out on a date for the first time, I can’t just blurt out, “That’s nice. But wait until you hear about my day” because he could really probably give a crap about what’s going on with me.

I missed having that person around that I could talk to and say, “You know what? You look like someone who shopped out of the bargain section of a dumpster today. But I love you anyway.” And he would return the compliment.

I don’t know if any of you achieved that level of honesty with your spouse and, to be quite honest, it took me awhile to get there with mine. But after 13 years together, we had finally gotten to the point where we could just really let ‘er rip. And now I’m always worrying about everyone’s feelings and whether or not I’ve said the right thing in the right tone of voice with the right look on my face.

I remember, not long after my husband died, having a conversation with my mother about how I had lost the only person I felt like I could be completely honest with. How it had taken me years to get to the point where I could successfully tell someone “like it is” without worrying that he would pack his duffle bag and hit the road. I think back to a conversation we had years ago that, at the time, didn’t seem important. But now, it’s like a benchmark for the start of every relationship I have.

It was my birthday. My husband had very thoughtfully taken the kids out to choose a birthday cake for me and when they came home, they presented me with a beautifully decorated ice cream cake.

But I hated ice cream cake.

As I sat through a lovely dinner and the traditional blowing of the candles, I thought to myself, “Should I just let this slide, or should I tell him?”

I finally came to the conclusion, after we had put the kids to bed, that I should just come clean and tell him that I wasn’t crazy about ice cream cake. After all, it was possible that we could be married for another 60 years and I didn’t want another 60 ice cream cakes. I reconciled this with my conscience by thinking that I was actually doing him a favor by telling him the truth. I told myself that it would be like I was lying to him if I didn’t.

The conversation went something like this:

“Sweetie…I just wanted to let you know…I’m not crazy about ice cream cake.”

“You’re not?”

“No…ice cream cake is your favorite. Not mine. I like regular cake.”

“Really? Well, I’ve never really liked your chicken parmesan.”


After years of making the same recipe that I thought he loved, I found out that he hated it.

We then proceeded to have a conversation for the next half hour about all of the things we had been doing that the other person disliked. There were no hard feelings. There were no tears. And I stopped making the dreaded chicken parmesan.

When I told my mother about it later, she couldn’t believe that we had actually done that. And, after he was gone and I was forced to acclimate myself to more “civilized” relationships, I couldn’t believe it either.

I mean…how many women tell their husbands they don’t like a dessert?

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Healing Power of Balloons. We Think.

As summer draws near, so begins my month of “celebrations.” It starts about mid June and ends in July. And I use the term “celebration” very loosely.

The first of these is, of course, Father’s Day. This is followed by my birthday, the anniversary of my husband’s death, and our wedding anniversary. You got it. One solid month of wine drinking insanity. I will tell you, though, I actually prefer it this way. It’s like ripping off a big grief Band-Aid and then I can enjoy my August in peace. Well, as close to peace as I can get.

All of us who have been at this grieving game for awhile are very familiar with the “balloon release.” (For those of you who are joining us from a more normal existence, this is when we release helium balloons in remembrance of our loved ones on special occasions.) For the widows who have children…we really should have bought stock in latex the day after we lost our spouses.

I know the balloon release is supposed to be healing and helpful, but I’ve got to admit, I’ve had very few go smoothly. And I worry every time one of these goes south that I will have to take out a second mortgage on my home to pay for the therapy that my kids will need in the future.

These things can go wrong for all of the obvious reasons. You know…trees, electrical lines, and just the random pop. All of these obstacles impact our need for healing. And there really isn’t a children’s book that deals with the loss of a balloon after the loss of a parent. I could really use something like Daddy Still Knows You Love Him Even Though Your Balloon is Caught on Your Neighbor’s Satellite Dish.

Hmmm…food for thought for my next book.

The good news about the whole balloon idea is that every time we pass Appliance Factory Outlet and they happen to be advertising a sale with tons of balloons, my kids get unreasonably excited and think that the manager is remembering their Dad.

I know I should correct them, but I really don’t want to burst their bubbles. So to speak.

Of course, before the balloon release, I’ve always had a big build-up with my kids as I jolly them along to let go of a helium balloon they’d rather keep anyway. I mean, what’s Dad going to do with that in heaven anyway? And how come you let us keep the balloon from Red Robin, but you’re making us get rid of this one?

This year, my kids have been bringing up the idea of tying a note to the ribbon and letting it go for Father’s Day. Now, I think this is a great idea. What has me worried is that they seem so fixated on it. They’re constantly asking me about it and seem to have been planning this for awhile.

I’m kind of wondering if the note attached is going to read something like, “Help! You left us with this crazy woman and she has no idea what she’s doing!”

Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems like the balloon release is somewhat of a let-down. There was Father’s Day last year when I packed the kids up for a trek to the mountains where my husband’s ashes are buried and stopped at the local grocery store (the last piece of civilization before we hit the official Middle of Nowhere). After I’d waited…and waited…and waited for someone to come along to help me with our Grief Balloons, I finally made it out to my minivan where I opened the back hatch to carefully put our purchase until send off.

As I let go, a gust of wind blew through the car, sending one balloon up in the air. This, of course, sent me into a panic, so I quickly slammed the hatch shut, popping a second one. As my children sat crying in the car, I finally managed to convince them that what we needed was just one family balloon. That’s all Dad really wanted anyway.

Quick thinking, right? Yeah…they didn’t buy it either.

Then there was his birthday when I took the kids out of school for a special Daddy Day. This is something they look forward to every year and I really think my husband would appreciate how we spend the day. You know…playing hooky. Anyway, I drove them to his alma mater, balloons in tow to have a special release. As we stood outside in the freezing November wind, I realized that all of the ribbons had just gotten completely tangled and there was no way I was going to get them apart. I frantically tried to pull them, bite them, saw them with my keys to separate them, but I was fighting a nest of curly ribbon. Everyone surrounding us probably thought it was incredibly touching that my kids were so emotional about remembering their dad, when really they were just pissed that they didn’t get to let their own balloon go and we had to send them up in one big clump.

This year, I’m just about to the point where I’m ready to have a newspaper release or something and just let it blow down the street and eventually find Daddy. That seems a little easier. And something they may be more willing to let go of.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Seasons Change and Moods Swing

When normal people think of the change in seasons they think of…well…normal things. The holidays, trick-or-treating, lighting fireworks, enjoying watching the flowers bloom as you sneeze your head off and graduate from regular tissues to Puffs Plus (sorry…you can tell where my head is right now as I sneeze my head off).

But, if I may so bold, we widows are not really normal people.

For us, the change in seasons means that we need to brace ourselves for a new attack of memories. It’s not just the special days we struggle with…it’s everything that goes with it.

Now, Colorado is a beautiful state and I love the weather. I love how the summer is hot, in the fall the leaves change, the winter is snowy, and everything blooms in the spring. It’s like Mother Nature used us as a proto-type. Then she had a little too much to drink one night and created a deadly combo of heat and humidity that she slapped on the South before she passed out.

The pay-off was that she later received a kick-back from Sears for the business she threw their way in the air conditioning department. That has helped to pay for her hair extensions and new pre-owned Miata convertible.

When my husband died in the summer, I knew I could handle a Colorado fall, but the winter was going to be another story. I knew the days would be short, the weather had the possibility of being hideous, and there was a good chance I would get stuck inside for four months with three small children and very little adult interaction.

In case you were wondering…there’s not enough wine in the world to deal with that. Believe me, I know.

So, as winter approached, I dug my heels in and braced myself for what I thought was going to be my first real bout of depression. I mean, nothing says “down” like long, dark days, never-ending “Calgon Moments” with three children, and a dead husband. My life was why Prozac commercials were made.

But I got through it. I think because I had been expecting it, it really didn’t turn out so bad. I got used to dressing my kids up in all of their 15 layers and sending them out into the snow so I could get some peace. I found that the snow-blower (like my earlier revelation with the lawn mower) could drown out the tattling and screaming pretty well. And my neighbor next door opened his own liquor store so if I needed that emergency belt of wine, he could hook me up.

What I wasn’t expecting was how I felt in the spring.

Don’t you feel like the things that you expect…they really don’t turn out so bad. It’s the stuff that sneaks up on you that really knocks you on your ass.

I realized, once that first spring hit without my husband, that I had no one to sit on the porch with. No one to help me plant my flowers. No one to throw me in the pool when I was least expecting it.

My partner in crime was gone.

It was hard to explain to my children why, when the weather started getting nice, I was so damn cranky. I mean, every other sane person in the state was loving the 75 degree weather and couldn’t wait to get outside and enjoy life. I, on the other hand, would walk outside, take one look at that blue sky, and stomp right back in.

I started to realize with the warm weather came activities I didn’t want to do alone. I didn’t know how to grill. Setting a beautiful table to dine outside seemed like a waste of time for my kids who were just as happy on a blanket in the yard with PB&Js and Cheetos. And rocking on the front porch seemed a little pathetic with no one there to rock alongside me.

I will admit to you, my blogging friends, that it took me a good two summers before I was able to just hang out and enjoy a beautiful day on my porch like I used to (which seemed like a really big waste because my porches were the entire reason I wanted to buy my house).

But once I finally made the leap and forced myself to sit in that chair and watch my kids play outside, it wasn’t so bad. My bitterness eased into a slow acceptance of my situation and gradually became what all of us colleagues in grief like to call “the new normal.” I even got used to rocking solo and if I didn’t want to be alone, I knew I could always ask my liquor store-owning neighbor to come over and join me.

The wine he brought didn’t hurt either.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's Time To Pull On Your Tights And Be Your Own Superhero

One of the hardest things for me to accomplish in my adult life has been…well…being an adult. I feel like I kind of flowed from one somewhat dependent situation into another. By getting married so young I went straight from my parents’ house to my husband’s house. Oh, sure, I worked, but I always had other people to depend on.

I guess one could say that I finally grew up in my 30s. And believe me…I was a reluctant adult. I didn’t want to be a role model to three young, impressionable minds. And believe me…if you ever met me…you wouldn’t want me to either.


One of the most startling things for me to come to grips with, when I found myself husbandless, was how scared I was. I know we all go through the usual feelings of fear when we are thrown into the deep end of life, but I was really scared. There is something to be said for having someone you can depend on from birth and, until that point, I had been covered.

Not only did I grow up with a great family, I had the fortunate experience of being married to the smartest, handiest person I’ve ever known. I knew that if the world should come to a crashing halt, my husband would be out in the backyard with a trap he had fashioned out of curly ribbon and paperclips to catch us some dinner. I knew that if we faced a gas crises and we had an emergency, my husband would be in the garage making an alternate fuel source out of garbage like they did in “Back to the Future.” I knew that if I had a flat tire, I had someone I could call.

Now, we have all heard from our well-intentioned friends and family how we’re not alone and that they are there to support us. And I whole-heartedly agree with that…to a point.

But are our friends as worried about our mortgage as we are? Are our families going to make the decision for us to either put our children at respiratory risk from H1N1 or chance facial paralysis from a vaccine that hasn’t been completely tested yet? Is there anyone else around all the time to just hand us a roll of toilet paper when we need it in an emergency?

The realistic answer to these questions is no. It doesn’t make them bad friends. It doesn’t mean our families don’t care enough. And it doesn’t mean that you have to worry about drip-drying for the rest of you life. It means that we’re adults. As bad as that sucks. And in some situations…we’re kind of on our own.

Not long after my husband died, my fear got to the point where I had to stop watching the news. I just knew that the serial killer on the loose in Washington D.C. would somehow find his way to my little area in the suburbs of Colorado. I couldn’t figure out where in the world I would store all of the plastic and Duct Tape I would need in the event of chemical warfare. And I knew I would need more jars than Wal-Mart carried to bury my retirement fund in the backyard in case of a complete market collapse.

That was the peak of my paranoia. That’s also when I started subscribing to US Weekly instead of The Denver Post.

I can’t actually tell you the moment when my anxiety started to subside. Maybe it was when my kids made it through the school year without more than the common cold. Maybe it was when I realized that my brilliant Certified Financial Planner (my sister) wasn’t about to let me lose everything (probably because she knew I’d show up on her doorstep with sleeping bags and my three kids). And maybe it was when I started to comprehend that even though I may not be as smart or as handy as my husband, I could hold my own. I can even do some pretty nifty things with curly ribbon.

Knowing you can depend on yourself when the going gets tough is a great feeling. And it’s a feeling that has to be earned…it doesn’t just happen overnight. For those of you who have had it together a lot longer than I have, you know what I’m talking about. And it’s within us all to be the person we depend on the most. I’ve even gotten confident enough that I can read the paper every now and then.

Actually, the truth of it is, the stories in US about gargantuan boob jobs are starting to get a little scarier to me than the state of the market and the possibility of a chemical attack.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Love: It's Out There...But Are YOU?

Whether you’re widowed or not, love is a tricky business. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been married, been messily married, or have gotten involuntarily unmarried (I think that’s a better term than “widowed,” don’t you?).

The big question is…do we ever know when it’s the right time to fall in love?

Now, I personally think falling in love is like having a baby…there is no right time. You can wait until your career takes off. You can wait until you feel like you’ve finally sown your last oat. You can wait until that hideous color you died your hair last month finally washes out.

But Mr. Right could still come along while you’re working at Burger King, regretting your “oat” from the night before, and he just might find those purple streaks in your hair endearing.

The point is, you never know.

I hear a lot of people ask the question, “Is it possible for you to love someone else before you learn to love yourself?” But I think that question is more complicated than it seems. Because to truly love yourself, you have to know yourself. And that’s where we run into problems.

I think it’s a very rare thing for people to be able to really look at themselves, with all of their problems and quirks and really love themselves for who they are. How many people do you know just sit around saying with a sigh, “I just love that nail-biting problem I have. I think it makes me so cute.”

For those of us who are widowed, or even those of us who have found and lost love, it’s a time consuming task to figure out who we are. I think a lot of us know who we were. But a lot has changed since some of us said “I do” for the first time.

I’m not the same person I was before my husband died. In the last three years I’ve dealt with loss, raising children, and running a family all on my own. I’ve figured out that I’m moody. I’ve figured out that even though 95% of the time I like to be around people, sometimes I like being alone. I’ve figured out that, when I’m caught between a rock and hard place, I have the ability to dig my way out.

Three years ago, I didn’t know that.

I feel like I’ve been on a journey of self discovery that I didn’t sign up for but has not necessarily been a bad thing. And, ultimately, these discoveries will make me a better partner for someone. And until that someone comes along, they just make me a better person.

I think a lot of us widows go through a time when we worry that we may not find anyone else. If you’ve made it through this transition knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you will be able to meet Mr. Right, Round II then I applaud you. Because most of us wonder if it’s possible to get struck by lightening twice in one life. And some of us wonder if we have the courage to get out there in the storm.

We wonder if we have what it takes to date, to meet a stranger, to invest ourselves again. And some of us wonder, after life has dealt us such a crippling blow, if we will ever make a good partner for someone else. We are plagued with self doubt and insecurities brought about by the past and lose confidence in what we might bring to the table in the future.

But I think that we’re looking at it backwards. We sit around and wonder who would want to take us on. We wonder who would want to date someone with kids and enough baggage to sink a ship. We wonder who would want to supplement the three pedicure a week habit we sometimes have when things get rough (okay…I know that just applies to me, but you get my point).

In reality we should looking at it in a different way. Who is lucky enough to enter our lives and be a part of a great family? Who is fortunate enough to meet us, people who know what love is and how to work on a relationship even through the toughest times? Who wouldn’t appreciate a woman with stunning toes?

We should look at ourselves as people who really know who we are and what we want. What we are and our experiences are a gift to someone else. And instead of saying, “I’ve been in love before, it will never happen a second time,” we should know that because we recognized love when we saw it and were willing to take the risk before, there’s a very good chance it will happen again.

We just have to have enough courage to get out into the rain.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day

My son recently asked me the question I have been WAITING for one of my children to ask for years.

“Mom…how come you get a Mother’s Day and we don’t get a day?”

Haven’t you been waiting all of your adult life to answer that question just like your parents did?

“Because every day is Kid’s Day.”

I never understood that as a child, but now as the mom of three small children I wish I had a tattoo across my forehead that said it. I would be such a hit at Chuck E. Cheese.

Have you ever noticed how Father’s Day tends to be the day that the dads get to take off and go play golf or something that is decidedly away from the rest of the family? And that Mother’s Day seems to involve a lot of family bonding and yard work? How exactly did that happen?

It confirms my belief that these two holidays were invented by a card company to increase sales and that that card company was run by a man. Probably the brother of the guy who invented pantyhose. Otherwise, Father’s Day would be in May…just in time for spring clean up. And Mother’s Day would be in June…the perfect weather for laying by the pool and sipping frozen alcoholic beverages.

I guess we moms should count ourselves lucky that Mother’s Day doesn’t fall on “National Clean Out Your Pantry Day” or something.

I was strangely oblivious to how hard Mother’s Day would be the first year my husband was gone. I knew Father’s Day would be a bitch, but my husband was never big on spoiling me for Mother’s Day. It took him 5 years of very strong hints for him to realize…I didn’t want to be with any of them on Mother’s Day. I wanted a break.

I know that sounds terrible, but you were thinking it too. I just verbalized it.

My first Mother’s Day without him was when it occurred to me that there was no one here to remember the 200 hours of labor I went through to bring three children into the world. That even though my parents had been around to greet the kids when they finally made their appearance, my husband was really the only one who was there. He may have been slightly hungover for the first one, but he was present. And he may have almost missed the second one, but he made it. And he was the one who was sitting beside me at church the third time around, when my water broke and we decided to go to brunch before the hospital because we knew we wouldn’t be fed for awhile.

It hit me that these memories weren’t ours anymore…they were mine. That's a big concept to swallow.

I am fortunate that my kids, even though they are young, get unreasonably excited about Mother’s Day. They start planning well in advance the things they are going to do for me. Last year, I figured out that they were planning on bringing me breakfast in bed and I quickly went out and bought a donut for myself so they could pamper me in the way they saw fit. I just had visions of my 4 year old trying to navigate the stairs with a full bowl of Cheerios and milk.

I’m hoping that one day, all three of my children become multimillionaires and continue their enthusiasm for Mother’s Day. But these days, I look forward to drawings, crafts, cards, and hopefully a day of minimal fighting.

As my children were arguing at a not-so-dull roar today, I asked them, “Can’t we start the ‘No Fighting On Mother’s Day’ now?”

My 8 year old looked at me like I was crazy and said, “But it’s not Mother’s Day today.”

After three years of widowed Mother’s Days, I’ve gotten used to being “spoiled” by my kids and not having the anticipation of a special treat from my significant other. They were rare, but I always lived in hope. Hope of a surprise pedicure appointment. Hope that he would say, “You deserve a break. Why don’t you go to the movies?” Hope that he would just take the kids out of the house and leave me in peace for 10 minutes.

I will say, though, that I kind of miss not having anyone around to ask, “You didn’t get me anything for Mother’s Day?”

Wait…now that I think about it…maybe that was his gift. Because there’s nothing a mother likes more than a good guilt trip.

That sneaky devil.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at!  

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What If...? A Glimpse at Situation Reversal

I realize that most of my posts have been from the female widow’s point of view and there is a good reason for that. I happen to be one.

But, in most of the situations and decision-making dilemmas I find myself in, I often wonder what my husband would do if the situation had been reversed. How would he be handling things if he was here and I wasn’t?

To begin with, he would have had a heck of a time finding any sort of paperwork upon my demise. I did the bill paying, filing, and investing. He did all of the money making, traveling, and his fair share of big spending. When I think back now, I could have totally taken him to the cleaners. I could have had a very healthy online poker problem and he would have been none the wiser until I was six feet under.

I know for a fact that he didn’t know where the life insurance paperwork was (because I wasn’t sure I even knew and I’m the one who filed it). Unfortunately, if he couldn’t find that paperwork, he wouldn’t have been able to locate his passport (which was filed with it) so he wouldn’t have even had the option of skipping the country once things got hard. I'm not saying I do that, but I know the option is there.

To be honest, I don’t even know if he knew how to get into our bank account. He could have been out there panhandling with a sign that says, “I have money in an account but I can’t get to it because my wife took the password to the grave. God bless.”

Once he was gone, this potential situation was brought to the attention of many of his male friends who immediately went out and grilled their wives on the status of their accounts and how to get in.

Sorry, ladies.

As I was going into my “Remodeling Phase” after his death (which I will go into further on a future blog), I knew he would consider the new T.V. I was buying to be “weak” and that if he had been alive instead of me, nothing less than a 72” IMAX in the family room would have been acceptable.

He would have been free to buy all of the 80s looking furniture that I would never let him get and he would probably go out and find himself an 80s looking girl to go with it. This would have been his secret revenge on me because I never grew the “big hair” he so desired.

On the upside, our lawn would look much better than it does now with me taking care of it.

He would have taken up hunting again now that the woman who hated guns and deer guts was no longer around to say anything about it. And it would have been required that the 80s looking girlfriend look good in camo.

And the kids…oh golly, the kids. Would they still be wearing the clothes that I had bought for them years ago before I was gone? Would my son be in capris and t-shirts that hit above the belly, thereby making him look like a 6 year old Incredible Hulk? Would my daughters be in unintentional minis with shoes that resembled the fine Asian tradition of foot-binding?

Would they all be sitting around the dinner table, loaded with Hamburger Helper, practicing how to belch the “Star Spangled Banner”? Would they ever see a green vegetable again? Would they know that soap was meant for washing your hands and not just for a “mini bubble bath” in the sink?

I know, in reality, he would have handled everything just fine. It just would have taken him a period of adjustment just like it’s taken me. And he would have suddenly realized and appreciated all of the things I did that he never knew about, just as I struggle with figuring out how to get everything done that he did.

My son would be handier, because his dad would be around to show him things. My daughters wouldn’t still be riding their bikes with training wheels on them at the age of 16 because my husband would know how to take them off. And my minivan would have a 6 inch lift on it with shinier wheels and a bigger spoiler.

I’m not saying my way is better than his. It’s just all in your perspective.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Saturday, May 1, 2010

If I Get the Therapist Without the Condescending Attitude, How Much Will That Run Me?

Finding professional help when you are not at your best is a daunting task, to say the least. I mean, here you are, an emotional train wreck, forced to get out there in the world and find someone who is going to help you NOT be an emotional train wreck. Which means, you have to start meeting new people when you’ve been existing on a diet of corn chips and pancakes and your personal hygiene has taken a backseat to more important things. Like sitting around and staring at the wall.

Most people don’t realize that help is something you have to shop around for. The chances of you walking into the office of the first professional you meet and having an instant connection are pretty slim. And this is a frustrating process. Because when you need help, you need it now. You don't have time to waste.

I’ve come to realize that those of us who have experienced loss, whether it’s a spouse, parent, or child, can sniff out those who have not. I remember going to my first therapist after my husband died and to be honest…I really wasn’t that crazy about her from the beginning. There was just something about her that hinted to me that the closest experience she’d had with death was when she put Fluffy down 2 years ago.

But I was in such a fog at that point, I didn’t trust my inner voice that said, “Walk away. Grab your purse, that useless grief pamphlet she just handed you, and one more piece of that cheap candy and get the heck out.”

The moment I woke up was when I told her that I had gone to dinner…not a date…dinner with a male friend of mine about 5 months after my husband died. Immediately she said, “You’re not ready to date.”

Now, how in the hell did she know that?

I had only met with this woman a few times. We had gone over some things…my past with my husband, my relationship with my family, my sudden bout of retail therapy…but I really didn’t feel like she knew me. And now that I am a few years past my initial grief, I have come to realize that it’s very normal for some people to date not too long after the death of their spouse. Not everyone does it, but some do. It’s a personal choice.

And it wasn’t a date.

That was the moment when I realized that it was hard enough to deal with the judgments of others while you’re trying to figure out how to grieve the “right way.” I certainly didn’t need it from my wacky therapist.

After that experience, I was a little nervous about trying this again. But it got to the point when I really needed somebody. So I gave it another go. And the second time around, I struck gold.

My point is…we shop around for everything in life. We try and find the best price on produce. We are on a constant mission to find the best fitting jeans (something that still escapes me). You wouldn’t just walk in and buy a car without doing a little research and giving it a test drive, would you?

So why would we do any less when it comes to our mental health? I mean, it’s taken me 3 years, 2 therapists, and 3 different grief groups to find the magical combination that understands my brand of crazy. But now that I’ve found it, I know I have someone for every little breakdown I might experience. She knows my past now and the things I’ve gone through so when I go in, we can just pick where we left off. I might see her twice a month, or I may not see her for 6 months. After seeing her once for a few months straight, I knew I was doing better when I went in and all we talked about was the books we were reading. At that point she just said, “You call me when you need me.” And you know what? I do.

What can I say? Welcome to professional grieving. The pay stinks, but you’ll always have a job.

For more blogs and articles from other widow(er) writers, join us at! 

© Catherine Tidd 2010