Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Widowhood: The Reality Series

Do you ever think that the networks are missing out on the ULTIMATE reality series? I mean, what has more drama, sick humor, running mascara, and (sometimes) hair-pulling than widowhood?

When I think of the millions that could have been made on my life in the last few years…well…it seems like such a waste. Anyone with a camcorder could have followed me around discreetly as I annoyed family members, shocked random bystanders, and started my own wine bottle recycling program and they would have been set for life. (If you’re reading this and you’re a producer, shoot me an email.)

Forgive me if I borrow this from Sophia on “The Golden Girls.”

Picture it. Denver, 2007. A young girl awakens to the sound of a phone ringing. She rolls over in her frightening, but somehow endearing bedhead stage to answer it, thinking that it’s her mother to confirm lunch plans.

Skip to that same girl, who should have had nothing else to worry about other than whether she should be feeding her kids pancakes or French toast for breakfast, racing to the hospital to find her husband on a stretcher and in a neck brace after an accident on his way to work.

Now, depending on whether this show gets picked up by TLC or CBS, they may or may not show the entire hospital scene. Being the PG-13 girl I am, I’m choosing the CBS version. TLC shows a little too much in their baby birthing shows. At least at CBS I know it’s ketchup.

Now, the next few episodes will involve that same girl shopping for overpriced urns, dealing with in-laws when she is (to say the least) ill-equipped, and trying to remember to put her kids’ shoes on the right feet on their first day of school. (In case you’re wondering…I did send my daughter to school with her shoes on the wrong feet.) She does all of this with a smile on her face, knowing that the audience would be uncomfortable with the fact that she’s an emotional wreck.

This would be called “putting off her grief.” She’ll do that until she has a break and they start showing re-runs. In the meantime, she keeps waiting for “The View” to call and schedule an interview.

Skip to the next season. The audience is hopeful. They want to see that this girl is moving on, happy in a widow sort of way, and doing what she can with the situation she’s been handed. And she is really wanting to oblige her legions of fans by showing them that she’s the model widow. She shows that she’s trying to get it together. She’s packing lunches, showing up for work without her slippers on, and switching to sparkling cider. Then they show a scene of her in an elevator with her kids, taking them to their yearly physical exam.

And then suddenly the musak version of “Stairway to Heaven” comes on and she’s a complete wreck.

You would think this show of emotion would go over well with those fans who want to see a little drama. But it really just makes them uncomfortable and switch over to “Shark Week” on Discovery.

By the third season, she starts getting very concerned about making her audience uncomfortable, so she moves on into “I’m The Most Capable Widow You Will Ever Know” mode. She bakes homemade cakes for birthdays, holidays, and the Chinese New Year. She gets up an extra hour early every morning to make sure that her kids’ lunches are made with love. And she has perfected the smile and nod that comes with listening to others talk about how hard it was to flush their fish, Toto.

Next season.

She doesn’t give a shit about what the audience thinks. She has long ago given up trying to keep up on her highlights, giving her the less desired “skunk” look. She will, at random, blurt out things that are “socially undesirable” which the network hates, but keeps the censors in business. She’s tried dating and can’t find one guy to give a rose to.

The network warns that she may get canned so she seriously thinks about giving birth to sextuplets so that she can stay on the air.

Post show:

No sextuplets.
Possible rose…we’ll call him a bud.
But somehow…between the musak, bad hair, and somewhat bad language…someone real emerges.

And that’s who everyone seems to want to interview.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ringing in Widowhood

As widows, we are so concerned with the wedding ring. When to take it off. What to do with it after. Which one of our kids is really our favorite so we know who to leave it to.

Sometimes I feel completely insecure without my ring. It’s like I've gone outside without pants or something. I feel exposed and vulnerable. There are days when I walk around, feeling like I forgot something important. And then I realize that I have a naked finger where a bejeweled one should be.

I guess it just reminds me that I’m really alone. That I’m no longer half of a partnership. That he is, in fact…gone.

To be honest, sometimes my ring finger just flat-out itches where my wedding ring used to be. It’s like my husband is getting back at me for taking it off by giving me some rare widow fungus.

There are days that I miss it so much. Partly because of what it symbolized and partly because my husband was such a jewelry person and had great taste. What’s funny is that when I was married I didn’t always wear my ring. It wasn’t a conscious move…like I was trying to go out and get me some. Sometimes I was cooking or gardening and didn’t want to get it dirty so I just took it off. Sometimes I was working out and my hands would swell. And sometimes I’d go out for a beer and realize that I’d forgotten to stop at the ATM.

Don’t judge me. My husband was just as frugal as I am. And we always agreed that a free drink is a free drink.

These days, I’ll slip it on again, where it should be, just to feel that security. I know that if I wanted to wear it all the time, I could. But the truth is that I don’t really feel married anymore, so just like not wearing it when I was...I don’t want to wear it now that I’m not.

Taking off your wedding ring is an incredibly personal decision. I don’t know about you all, but I had not really thought about it before my husband died. And then when he was gone, I agonized over it for months. I don’t know what it was, but when I finally decided to not wear it anymore, I felt like I couldn’t go back. It somehow just felt so…final for me.

I think what bothers me the most is that, now that I’m not wearing it, I think people just assume that I’m divorced. It’s like I want to tell every stranger on the street that I’m not single by choice…this was beyond my control. I’m not saying that to be divorced is somehow less acceptable than being widowed. It’s just different.

I wish we could have a widow ring. Can you imagine all the problems that would solve? It wouldn’t be assumed that we’re divorced. And once again, it would be a way to let people know why we’re such a mess. People could ask what’s wrong and we could just give ‘em the finger. So to speak.

And if someone ever comes up with one, I think it should be at least 5 carats of something. We’ve earned it, for crying out loud. That ring should come with your life insurance or social security check. At least one of those damn “thinking of you” cards should come FedEx with a jewelry box attached. And I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. If you’re a widower, you’re just going to have to suck it up and wear the damn thing.

Just not on your pinky. I’m envisioning it and that’s just creepy.

I mean…seriously. Don’t you think we ought to get something? A merit badge for walking and breathing at the same time. A stamp on our driver’s license that will get us out of any ticket for the rest of our lives. At this point, I’d even take a t-shirt that says, “Widowed: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

I guess until that happens, we’ll all keep going about our business, explaining to strangers why we’re not wearing a wedding band, hoping that it doesn’t inspire them to say something ridiculous. Or cause us to have one of our unexpected meltdowns (which is why I’m on the probation list at Wal-Mart).

And if you ever see a woman out there, walking in circles in an insecure way, looking like she forgot something, itching her ring finger…

…don’t be shy. Say hello. ‘Cause that’s me.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Retail Therapy: How Widows Will Pull Us Out of the Recession

Let’s face it. We start spending the moment our loved ones take their last breath. Wait a minute…we really start spending way before that. Most of us are the reason why our own personal physicians drive such nice cars.

But if you think about it…our contribution to the healthcare industry is just the beginning.

Once everything is done, we have the funeral to deal with. I’ve been to small funerals and elaborate ones, but, even on the small side, we usually spend at least a couple thousand dollars. You’ve got a casket or a seriously overpriced urn. You’ve got flowers with ribbons that looked great in the catalog, but you think look a little cheap once they’re sitting next to that shiny new casket. You’ve got all that food you had catered by Chick fil A. I’m telling you…this really adds up.

You’re welcome, Funeral Business.

Now, I realize that this isn’t fun spending, but for some of us, it sends us into a credit testing tailspin of epic proportions. Because once the dust settles on that whole memorial business, most of us are left wondering, “What the heck do we do now?”

That’s when the bright lights and self-opening doors of Target start looking like the safe haven we can’t get enough of.

It starts small doesn’t it? You pop in there thinking, “You know…I think I’ll just pick up some new linens and give my bed a little lift” or “I’m having so much company lately, I really need to get more towels.”

Then next thing you know, your new towels don’t match the paint color in the spare room. And we all know that that just will not do.

Enter Home Depot.

Now, once that spare room gets a little pick-me-up we start wondering why we would spend that much money on a room just for our guests, when we really need a place to call our own. I know some of you out there wouldn’t dream of changing your bedroom and want it exactly the way you had it when your spouse was with you. However, others would rather make a space that is entirely different so that they are not reminded of the intimate moments they shared in that room with a love that they’ve lost.

That’s when those T.V. ads for Furniture Row begin to look reeeallly inviting.

I don’t know about you, but once I got that new bedroom all spruced up and organized, it really bothered me that I didn’t have the right clothes to go with my new room. I mean…if my room got a little face lift, surely I deserved one, right? It started small…I just began looking for the perfect red purse. Then I realized that the coat I was wearing did nothing for my new purse. Eventually I just moved from the outside…in.

And it ballooned into my own personal parking spot at TJ Maxx.

Eating out because we don’t have the attention span to cook. Extra daycare because we don’t have the attention span to parent. Gym memberships because we don’t have the attention span to do anything else other than walk on a machine that takes us absolutely nowhere.

Think of it, people. Without us, the entire economy would just collapse. Hallmark would lose at least a fourth of their business. Florists would never make it. Airlines would feel the pinch because we wouldn’t be trying to escape from wherever it is we are.

And wineries…where would they be?

We know why we do it. It’s instant gratification. Knowing that we’ve found just the right thing makes us feel better for a minute. And in the grieving game, if you can feel better for a minute, you’re doing pretty good.

It’s busy work. It keeps us from thinking about what’s really bothering us. Concentrating on not falling off the escalator at Foley’s gives us an escape for just a moment and we’re not thinking about the world falling down around us.

It’s empowering. It makes us feel in control of something…even for just a second. And when you’re living with how out of control life can be, you’ll take what you can get.

I’m not saying this is healthy. I’m not saying you should run out and blow your entire savings just so you can feel better for a minute. I’m saying forgive yourself a little. And be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I know that always makes me think a little before I hand over that piece of plastic.

I mean, right now, I’m feeling a little small and powerless. And there’s one thing I keep thinking over and over.

I’d feel a lot better if I just found the right car to go with that purse.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

Come On Confidence...I Know You're In There Somewhere....

So, I’ve started working on this project that is kind of big in scope and will be amazing for all of us in the widow community. As with most of my ideas, I had a huge light-bulb moment while driving in my car a little while back. So huge, I was very glad that I was driving my mini-van and not a more low-profile vehicle. Otherwise I think it would have just blown the roof off.

I have my full heart into this project and I cannot WAIT until it’s far enough along to tell you what’s going on. You can ask my entire family…I’m TERRIBILE at keeping secrets, so keeping this from you is just about killing me. I’ve come to consider you all some of my closest friends, even though if you walked up to me at Starbucks, I probably wouldn’t know who you are.

Is that weird?

Anyway, something you should know about me is that I’m not a risk taker. Living on the edge was something I left up to my husband. I’m frugal, I do things by the book, and, to be honest, I have a huge fear of failing. Of course, I’ve had dreams and ambitions before but I never seemed to quite have the self-confidence to pull them off.

Which is what makes me taking on this project that much more amazing.

Throughout the planning process, I haven’t had a doubt in my mind that what I’m doing is what I’m meant to be doing. That everything in my life (including the death of my husband) has gotten me to this point. I feel like my life has been circling around this idea for years and now it’s finally going to land.

And then I started to notice myself changing into someone that I didn’t quite recognize.

This woman is fearless. There isn’t a doubt in her mind that she’s going to succeed. This woman is positive that what she’s doing is getting ready to help a lot of people. If she came with thinner thighs and had money for a boob tuck, I would say she’s damn near perfect.

Now, as we all know, change doesn’t happen overnight. I didn’t just wake up one morning, transformed into Wonder Widow. The reason I know that is because this morning, the old me started to creep back into the picture.

And I was scared.

What if I’m wrong? What if this doesn’t work? What if…? What if…? What if…?

In the midst of my worrying, Wonder Widow suddenly snapped her fingers and told me to get a hold of myself. She said to me (and I quote), “Life is short. What better thing to invest in than yourself? You know you’re right and the only way to make this happen is to never doubt yourself. This is what you were meant to do. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Now, put your head down, get to work, and get ‘er done.”

She stopped short before she told me, “And doggone it…people like you.”

I’ve had fleeting moments of self-confidence before. But the difference this time is that I’ve decided to grab it with both hands and hang on for (hopefully) the ride of my life. I’m trying to make a conscious decision to ignore the meeker me and embrace that woman who has no doubt that she can make things happen. I’ve daydreamed about that woman before, but for the first time, I feel like I’m meeting her personally and shaking her hand.

I’ve grown up with an amazing support system. No one has ever said, “You can’t do that.” But I think I’ve been waiting all my life for some overnight transformation into the woman I have always wanted to be. I didn’t realize that the process is more gradual and that I’d have to pay attention. I didn’t know that I would have to be more proactive and make my life into what I’d always dreamed of. I didn’t know that the person I had to be able to trust and never doubt…was myself. That I could hear from everyone in my life that anything was possible, but until I truly believed it, nothing would ever happen.

And what’s the point of being here if nothing ever happens?

I guess my point is…listen to your inner Wonder Widow. Grab that feeling of confidence and don’t let go. I have a feeling you’ll be in for the ride of your life.

And I can’t wait to see where you land.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sometimes It's Not So Easy To Walk The Walk

So this is it. The dreaded anniversary weekend. And just as I thought, I’ve been feeling much better this week than I did last. I’m such a weird griever. The only thing I can say is…I’ve never been a procrastinator. Leaving things to the last minute completely stresses me out. Now I’ve learned that I get everything done early. Even grief.

This weekend will be a busy one. Ever since I lost my husband, I started hosting a gathering to remember him on his anniversary. That first year was a whopper (and something I’m not sure I’ll ever do again). I was doing my best to feel “normal” and since we were always big entertainers, I thought, “What better way to commemorate my husband than with cheesesticks and a keg?”

Little did I know, throwing that party would make me miss him more than ever because he wasn’t here to give it with me. Hey…we live and we learn.

When he was with me, we used to always give a big summer party. In fact, the weekend following his death, we were supposed to give our biggest one yet and I had no idea how many people to expect. We had invited all of our friends and family and then he’d opened it up to people at work.

I had a fear that I would be calling my parents in tears, telling them that 500 people had shown up, I had no idea where that pot came from, and that I was going to have to replace all of the carpet and screens.

Anyway, my husband passed away on a Wednesday and the party was scheduled for the following Saturday. Even in the blur of trying to put together a funeral as quickly as possible, I remember really stressing about whether or not someone would show up for that party who hadn’t gotten the word.

I mean…can you imagine? You show up at someone’s house in your Hawaiian shirt and a six pack only to find 100 people dressed in black, eating ham, and crying?

Luckily, that didn’t happen. Or if it did, my family was good enough not to tell me.

Since that year, I have gotten involved in a local 5k race that honors organ donors and celebrates organ recipients (my husband was an organ donor). Fortunate enough for me, it’s usually held right around my husband’s anniversary. In fact, this year it’s ON his anniversary. So I form a team and let all of my friends and family know that they can join us if they’d like to. I supply bagels and juice afterwards and we all sit around talking about how, if my husband were actually with us, he’d probably be griping about the fact that we woke him up that early to take a walk.

So, this fundraiser has been very helpful to me and something I kind of look forward to every year. But I have come to realize…not all widows feel the same way.

I noticed, after meeting some local widows, that a lot of us seem to have our causes. In fact, I think we’re the walking-est group of people you’ll ever meet. We can’t get through a summer without supporting each other by taking at least 20 walks for various charities. I used to think that everyone did that: Lost someone, found a cause, got great legs.

Until last week.

I have a friend who lost his partner and the love of his life (who also happened to be my friend from college) to cancer about 6 months ago. We started talking about all of these walks and fundraisers and he told me that he had been approached several times about various cancer research fundraisers. Like those who approached him, I thought for sure he would join in anything he could. I was in for a surprise.

When I asked, “Well, what do you participate in?”

He calmly replied, “Nothing. It’s too late. He’s already gone. If they had asked me before he died I would have been at everything. But now it’s too late.”

Now, some people may look at this as selfish or short-sighted. But for some reason, it made complete sense to me. And it was a response I had never heard of before.

I mean…he’s right. It is too late for him. His partner is gone and, frankly, I think his response is a pretty normal reaction. We all want to blame someone, something, for our spouse’s death. So what’s a more appropriate thing to blame than…cancer?

Now, I’m not writing this so that you all stop what you’re doing and ask the American Cancer Society for a refund. I’m just saying that we all deal with things in our own way. As we have said before…what makes sense to one person may not make sense to anyone else. Really…he could think I’m completely off my rocker when I celebrate my husband’s life by not showering, strapping on a pair of running shoes, and hanging out with 3000 people he never knew. But that’s my choice.

And my friend fully admits that someday, he may be ready to take that walk. But for right now, he’s angry. He doesn’t want to give anything to the enemy that took the most important person in his life away…even if it’s in an effort to get rid of it.

What I admire the most is the friend of his who said, “Tell me your partner’s name. I’ll walk for him until you can.”

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm Taking the Gloves Off...It's In-Law Time

I am now on my second attempt to write a blog about in-laws. The truth is, once I started writing the first one and I got to about the 576th page, I realized that this may take several volumes. So be advised…I’m just chipping off a little piece of the iceberg. Right now, I’m tensing just about every bone in my body as I attempt to slide down this slippery slope of a relationship. I hope you appreciate it. I know I’ll be feeling it tomorrow.

I have found that there’s usually no middle ground with in-laws. Most people, when you ask them about their relationship with their in-laws after the death of their spouse, don’t say, “Well, they’re fine. I enjoy them when I see them, but if they don’t come by I’m okay with that too.”

That would be Choice A. And the two of you out there who have it…well…you’ve struck gold.

Then there’s choice B: They might be genuinely loving and helpful. And suffocate you a little on the side.

Choice C: You’ve filed a restraining order.

And then there’s the rarely chosen D: The ones who have great parents AND great in-laws with whom you genuinely enjoy spending time with. Together. At the same time. Those of you who have that have either really paid your dues at some point or were saints in your former lives. I have no idea what the hell happened in my previous life, but my in-law karma is not the best.


I’ve got a theory. You know I always do. As uneducated and misguided as it may be.

I think that most of the time, when the in-laws fall on the more likeable side, it’s because you may have had a little bit of a rocky relationship with your own parents. And that’s okay. I’m not judging. Shoot. The fact that my parents will even throw me a bone, much less go to dinner with me…well…that speaks volumes.

For them.

No…I’m not kidding. I was not always as put together as you think of me today. At one point in my life, I would really speak my own mind. I would say what I thought before the thought had even fully formed. And then I would watch my parents’ faces as they looked like they were getting blind-sided by a semi in slow motion.

Thank God I stopped doing that last week.

I wouldn’t trade the relationship I have with my parents for anything. Heck…they’re great. Beyond great. I’m thinking about erecting statues in my front yard of my entire immediate family. God knows they’ve earned it for putting up with me during the last few years.

I’m just waiting on HOA approval.

But if there are deals to be made…could I exchange about 5% of my good relationship with my parents for a 5% increase in my relationship with my in-laws? Tell you what…I’ll give you one extra disagreement with my mom about my wardrobe if you give me a couple of birthday cards for my kids from my in-laws. Deal?

Wait…who in the hell am I talking to? Ah yes. Reality. And Reality hasn’t listened to me in a few years, so I guess I better just save it.

So here we are. We promised “til death do us part.” And, if I remember correctly, there was no fine print. There was nothing that said:

Unless the first party should pass on waaaaaay earlier than the second party (that’d be you) anticipated, therefore entitling the second party to a lifetime of servitude and polite smiles while the third party (that’d be the in-laws) shall run over the second party with an emotional steamroller, thereby ensuring the second party at least 30 extra years in therapy.

The truth is that even in good times, the in-law relationship is a little complicated. Those men out there who are reading this…I’m sorry…you can usually complain all you want about your mothers-in-law. But try navigating a relationship with a woman whose baby you stole and had the nerve to marry. It’s not pretty. For most of us women…our parents were just happy to get us off their hands. I mean, my dad told me that he would give me $50 cash and a ladder if I promised to elope and spare him the cost of a big wedding.

I was about 12 at the time.

So we’re all already up to our ears in in-law quicksand and then our spouses get sick or die suddenly. And if that doesn’t complicate an already complicated relationship, I don’t know what does. If you were able to get through the illness without incident, I applaud you. If you managed to get out of the hospital on speaking terms, you should get a medal. And if you happened to get your spouse to his/her final resting place and still have any sort of contact with your in-laws, then I’m going to add you to those statues I’m putting up in my front yard.

Unless you’re one of those people who fell under choice D. You guys have had it too good already.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I've Got An Attitude

So, I have made no secret of the fact that this is a tough time of year for me. Actually, I can pretty much come up with a reason for ANY time of the year to be tough…I don’t care if it’s the Chinese New Year or Martha Stewart’s birthday. I can find a way to tie anything into how much I miss my husband.

That is the gift that is widowhood. But this time I really mean it. July blows.

I’m hoping by next week, I will have gotten over what feels like the flu-like symptoms of extreme grieving. You know what I mean? I start feeling not quite right one day and by the next, I’m in full-blown “can’t get out of my bed” mode. My nose is runny and my eyes could probably water my entire lawn. My face is chapped and there are tissues all over my bedroom floor. And this time, for some reason, I feel like I’m starting to have grief hot-flashes.


But this afternoon, I started thinking about something my sister told me a long time ago: The only thing you can control in life is your attitude. And I’m going to run with it.

Yesterday, as I sat sniffling under my down comforter (even though it’s the middle of summer), feeling sorry for myself and everything I’ve been through, I really thought about what I’ve done and that I’m still here. And instead of thinking, “My Gosh, I’ve had a horrible life,” I started thinking, “I did all that? That was me?” And then I thought…

Damn, I’m good.

When I think about the time I spent in the hospital with my husband hooked up to every tube imaginable and learning that he would never be coming home, I can either let that memory bring me to my knees or I can think, “I stayed with him. I was calm (mostly) and held his hand. And when the time came, I still had the presence of mind to give life to others by permitting my husband to be an organ donor. I did that.”

When I think about coming home from the hospital to three small children, it always gives me a mini-nervous breakdown. The fact that I sat my five, three, and one year old children down and calmly told them that Daddy wasn’t going to come home anymore, still amazes me. But I’ve decided to take that bad amazement in turn it into good (‘cause that word can really be used either way).

Instead of imagining their little faces and thinking, “I sat down and told them the worst news they might ever hear,” I’ve decided to look at it another way. I’ve decided to think of it as, “I told my children terrible news in a calm, gentle way and they’re still okay. In fact, they’re doing really well. And I did that. I made it okay for them.”

When I think about going to a memorial service for my husband held at the Air Force Academy to honor those graduates who had died that year, I can’t believe that I did that. (For those of you who have not been to a military memorial…let me tell you…the slowness and precision of the service is one of the most excruciating things you can witness. Beautiful, but incredibly powerful.) I stood there alone while they called the names of each former cadet who had died and someone from their squadron yelled, “Absent, sir!” in front of the entire Homecoming crowd and the current student body

They called in order of age...from oldest to youngest. My husband was second to last.

I dug my fingernails into the palms of my hands, gritted my teeth, and stood still, waiting for my husband’s moment. And when I think back to that, I think, “I did that. I honored him by being there. And for better or for worse, it is a moment I will always remember.”

When I remember all of those hard times, I honestly wonder, “Who was that woman?” ‘Cause the woman looking back at me in the mirror with puffy eyes and dry lips doesn’t seem that brave. She doesn’t look like the kind of person who could take such a blow and still stand up. She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who could have a conversation with her children without scarring them for the rest of their lives. She doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who could stand at that memorial without falling to the ground in a big sobbing heap of designer suit and Payless shoes.

But we’re both wrapped up in the same person. The woman who found the strength to go through all of that is still here. It’s the memory of that woman that makes things hard. Because when I’m feeling low, I feel like she’s on vacation. And I really need her here to give me a pep talk.

Or…maybe not. What if she turns out to be one of those bitches who just tells me to “get over it?”

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anniversaries Are Like PMS...It's That Time of the Year For Me

So, the time that I dread the most all year long is finally upon me.

The anniversary.

Not just “the” anniversary. But also my wedding anniversary. Yup. We actually had my husband’s visitation on our 11th anniversary (2 days after he died). If that doesn’t make me sound like a bad country song, I don’t know what does.

As this day creeps closer and closer, I feel worse and worse. Experience has shown me that this is my lowest point and the actual day really isn’t so bad. It’s like I get all of my depression and sorrow out in about 1 week of weepy, exhausted, messy living and then I perk right back up again on the “big day.”

I’ve been thinking about the last few years and how some things have gotten harder and some things have gotten easier. I know that for a lot of people who are at the beginning of this journey, they get a little uneasy when the more seasoned grievers tell them that it doesn’t get any easier. My usual response to that is, “That’s not true! It gets easier! You’ll be okay.”

Because who wants to hear, when they have to truly concentrate in order to put one foot in front of the other and breathe at the same time…that it gets worse?

But today, I started thinking that the term “easy” is really relative. When I think about the first year…it was a blur. It was 365 days of anxiety attacks, shakiness, and sleepless nights. It involved days that I had to get up even when I would have rather been sharing a bed with a wild tiger if that meant I could just stay in it a little longer. It was a year of listening to bad advice and incorrect commiserating and squirming through more uncomfortable moments than I ever thought possible.

I dealt with the demons of remembering those days in the hospital, but at the time, it seemed like it had happened to someone else. If anyone asked me to tell them the story of how my husband died, sometimes I could spill it like it was a fictional story and then sometimes I would get midway through it and realize, “My God. That happened to me.”

It was…well…a bad year.

This was followed by year number 2. The anxiety had lessened a little. Getting out of bed was a bit easier. And I learned to flip people the finger behind my back as they told me I should get on with things.

I just got a lot of dirty looks from the people standing behind me in the line at Wal-Mart.

What I found the most disappointing about that year was that I didn’t have the magical moment that I was hoping for. Like a child who realizes that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, I discovered that there is no such thing as “getting over” what has happened. I didn’t wake up on the 366th day and feel any different than I did the day before.

Sorry y’all. But that’s the truth.

Now, year number 3. This is the year I have really felt the milestones. The first year, I knew they were there, but the pain was too fresh. The loss was too new to really know what my husband’s absence was going to mean for the rest of my life. The second year, I was too busy trying to find that mythical “new normal” I kept hearing everyone talk about and fighting to keep my head above water. Or just closer to the surface so I could gulp the air every once in awhile.

Year 3 was the first year that I really cried when my husband wasn’t here my son’s birthday…because it really hit me how much they were both missing. I suddenly realized that pretty soon I will have had the dog that we got together (our first kid) longer than we had been married. This is the year that I really felt the passage of time and how fast it goes. (Even with a willful but entertaining 4-year-old around. If you’re going to feel pity for me about anything check back with me in about 11 years and see how I’m doing. If I’m not around, I may have checked myself into assisted living early.)

My grief and my loss have become as a part of me as a vital organ. To lose them may mean losing some of what I have left of my husband and that would be a real loss. It’s not that I welcome depression and sorrow, but some days they remind me that he’s still with me. And if I want to keep the good memories…with that comes the pain of realizing that that’s just what they are. Memories.

I don’t know if this will make anyone who is new to this game feel any better, but I do think that the first year is the worst. The difference between the first year and the following years (in my experience) is that the blinding pain of loss isn’t always with you. As I said in a speech recently, “Even though your loved one may be the first person you think of every morning for the rest of your life, eventually this becomes more of a routine and less of a jolt.”

What makes some of us feel like sometimes the years after the first are worse is that when the pain does come, it’s sharper and more defined. For me, since it’s not the same pain that used to be my constant companion, when it happens, it takes my breath away. After a few years, we can pinpoint what’s happening, but we have learned through experience that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. And we have the added bonus of being far enough out, that people don’t understand why we’re still grieving.

But I’ll tell you something. Year 4 is the year I will forgive myself for it. Year 4 will be the year that I realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks…I loved my husband and I will grieve him however I need to for the rest of my life. I don’t care if it’s when I see a lifted Jeep (one of his great loves) riding down the road. I don’t care if I cry like a baby when his beloved Steelers win the Superbowl (and they will again, my friends). I don’t care if I get funny looks when I just tear up at a stoplight for no apparent reason (I do that a lot, by the way).

My grief is my own. It’s part of me now. And just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Kind of like love.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The 4th of July: My Own Personal Holiday From Hell

I hope I don’t get slammed for making this comment, but…I hate the 4th of July.

This has nothing to do with my patriotism. For those of you reading my blog, you don’t have to suddenly be afraid that you’ve been caught up in some terrorist plot to take over the world by brainwashing unsuspecting widows. I love this country as much as the next guy. My dislike for the holiday is more basic than that.

I hate loud popping noises.

I’ve always been this way. I was the child cowering in the corner of the yard with my head between my knees and my hands over my ears. As an adult, I get THOROUGHLY annoyed when irresponsible teenagers (or my inebriated neighbors) keep the party going past 10:00 PM. Because all that means is that I have to keep my windows shut and roast inside my nice, insulated house to drown out the noise.

I’m starting to think that this problem has really held me back all my life.

I’ll never forget, as a child, joining the swim team where, little did I know, I would have to meet my fear head-on. This was back in the day when they didn’t have the nice, passive beeping noise to get the race started. Nope. It was a cap pistol. So every Saturday as the sun was coming up on a beautiful Colorado morning, I would get my little 7 year old bathing suit, get over to the pool, and freeze my 7 year old butt off at another swim meet.

Unfortunately, the sound of the cap pistol scared the crap out of me so much that I would constantly false-start, so I wouldn’t have to hear it.

This little issue forced my saintly mother to walk me halfway down the block, away from the pool until it was time for my race so I wouldn’t have a complete breakdown and end up in a mental institution by the age of 9.

Finally, the swim team coach pulled my mother aside and said, “Ma’am. She’s a great swimmer. But some things just aren’t worth it.”

To this day, I wonder if I could have made it into the Olympics if I had just been born about 10 years later when the beeper came along.

Birthday parties with balloons. BB guns at camp. Those cheap little poppers that spray pieces of paper everywhere. All enemies to my sensitive ears.

My husband was never allowed to own a gun, even though he had been an avid hunter growing up. I would like to say that it was because I don’t believe in guns and I was worried that it would be a safety issue. But it was really because I knew that if he owned one, some day he might use it. And it would be loud.

So you can imagine that if I hate popping noises and I don’t like listening to fireworks on the 4th, having to purchase them for my kids just really pisses me off. As I was (reluctantly) walking through a bumblebee colored tent from hell with my kids and a buddy the other day, waiting to throw my money away on items that I was just going to light on fire (c’mon…does that REALLY make sense), my friend turned to me and asked, “So how much do you want to spend?”

I glared at him and said, “Well, I hate these things and I’m one of the cheapest people you know. How much do you think?”

Shoot. I could've been buying a purse.

The only thing that makes me feel a little better about it is that my friend who went shopping with me later confessed that he has a fear of sparklers. He worries about kids burning themselves, having inappropriate swordfights, and accidentally stepping on the discarded metal. When I think about that…it brings a little smile to my face and I feel like I’m not so weird.

I mean…what kind of a freak is afraid of a sparkler?

© Catherine Tidd 2010