Saturday, August 28, 2010

Everyone Else Says Stupid Stuff to Us. Why Shouldn't We Return the Favor?

We all go through those times when we feel the most single. Some days it’s not so bad. On other days, you feel like if your body could support its own electrical current you would like to just display a neon sign that says, “SINGLE. Gotta a problem with that?”

School started last week and for my kids and I never feel more single than at school events. I’ve gotten over feeling like the 3rd wheel with all of my friends. Dating…been there, done that. But at school…you know people are wondering why you’re the only person showing up to things, no ring, and usually looking so frazzled that people wonder if they should contact the front desk about you.

Now, I’m not so self-important that I think that everything revolves around me. I’m just so nosy and gossipy that when I see other people look like that, I wonder what their story is. So I just assume everyone else is wondering the same thing.

For me, nothing says “single” more than my daughter’s preschool. There, I have to sign her in every morning on her own personal sign up sheet. When I flip through the book to find our paper, I notice the names of all of the couples at the top of each child’s paper. ‘Cause the truth is…even if you’re divorced, both parents’ names are at the top of the sheet. When you’re in the situation I’m in it’s just you. One. Alone. Single.

(If you really want to know the difference between divorced and widowed…take a look at that book.)

Now, no one is ever nosy enough to actually ask me why I’m the only name on that sheet. And sometimes I’m helpful enough to just come out and explain it.

But I’ve gotten a little more ballsy in my aging widowness. And there’s a big part of me that’s just itching to make up some random story as to why I’m the only parent listed on the page.

“Well, you know? One day he was a lawyer and the next I got a postcard from clown school. I know! Shocked the hell out of me too!”

Or.

“I told him that if he didn’t start cleaning the bathrooms, I would just pretend he doesn’t exist. We’ll see if he makes the sheet next year.”

Or.

“Don’t tell anyone, but I suspected he was having an affair with the woman who reads our gas meter. For some reason the police keep digging up my backyard. But I’m not saying a word.”

I know you guys think I’m crazy…that’s nothing new. But come on. Aren’t you even a little bit tempted to make up something more exciting than what happened? I mean, the people around us have been shocking us for years with their own stupid comments. Isn’t it our turn to get a little revenge?

I’ll tell you something else.

The fact that my daughter actually attends a religious preschool kind of makes it even more tempting.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grief: The Sneak Attack

I had a flashback today in the most bizarre place.

I was at my dental appointment and suddenly I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe and like I could cry at any moment. Now, most people would assume that it was some sort of dental-phobia that I was suffering from, but the truth is…I like going to the dentist. I know that sounds strange, but going to the dentists office is one of the few places that I can’t take my kids, so I kind of look forward to it. Kind of like my yearly OB exam.

I know this is a new dimension to my craziness, but trust me…as a single mother to 3 kids, I’ll take the breaks where I can get them.

Normally, when I’m sitting there, I get so relaxed while they chip away at my teeth that I practically go to sleep. It helps a lot that my dentist has these awesome massaging dental chairs. I’m sure I pay extra for that, but when you don’t get some rubbing a whole lot in your every day life, you’ll take what you can get.

I practically need a cigarette when I leave.

Anyway, today, after over 3 years of my husband being gone, I had this flashback to when I went to the dentist right after he died. And I mean right after. It suddenly occurred to me today how weird that was. He had just died 2 weeks earlier and I still kept my dentist appointment? I mean, what was I thinking?

The only reasonable answer I can come up with is that I was trying to keep everything as normal as possible. For example: As I was coming home from the hospital right after he died, I was asking people, “Has anyone taken the kids to McDonald’s lately? Who’s taking my daughter to ballet tomorrow?” Like, if I acted normal, everything would be normal.

Rookie mistake.

So, what’s more normal than your regular dental appointment? I mean, if everything is okay…why shouldn’t you go?

I showed up, plopped myself down in the chair, and talked to my regular hygienist. She asked me all of the routine questions, one of which was if I was on any new medication lately. To which I replied, “Well, I’m taking Ambien because my husband died 2 weeks ago. Which reminds me…you should probably cancel his next appointment because he won’t be able to make it.”

Being new to the Widow Game, I hadn’t learned the hard lesson of what a conversation stopper that is. My hygienist promptly put her clipboard down, teared up, and had to excuse herself.

Which of course made me late bringing my kids to McDonald’s later.

As we all know, grief just sneaks up on us. Its attacks are farther apart, but they still come. Even though I’ve been fine going to the dentist for 3 years, suddenly today, I just wasn’t. And it brought on an anxiety attack of epic proportions.

I usually don’t do that until I get my bill. Damn, I miss having Dental.

When I get this way, I feel like I’m drowning from the inside out. I can’t breathe. I can’t see straight. But instead of the water coming in, it’s coming out of me faster than I can keep up with it. I know that there are other factors involved…work stress…personal stress…and my daughter’s birthday coming up. Who knew that it would all come to a head in front of a masked woman with a pick in her hand?

Lately, I feel like I’m just treading water as fast as I can, trying to fight the current that’s doing its best to pull me under. I try as hard as I can to remind myself that these are all (relatively) little things that are making me feel this way. When I look at the big picture, we’re all doing pretty well. We’re healthy. The kids are happy. And even though I have to pay out of pocket for a dental exam…I’m able to pay out of pocket for a dental exam.

All things to be grateful for.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. If you haven’t already figured out by this blog…I’m feeling a little lost right now. But there is one thing that makes me feel better. And that’s you all my Widow Chick friends.

Because I may feel like I’m drowning a little. But I always know…we’re all bailing out the same boat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Bags Are Packed. Should I Check My Problems Or Carry Them On?

I’m a road tripper. Hand me a map, a bag, and some pesos and I’m there.

I think I get it from my dad. We’re such tall, poor people that if we can’t sit in First Class and get the extra leg room for 4 hours, we’d rather sit in a mini-van filled with family tension, (but all you can eat BBQ along the way) for 24 hours.

You can judge all you want. But I don’t want to hear from the short people who have leg room in coach.

Anyway, B4K (that would be “Before Kids”) I would take to the open road. Feel the wind blow through my hair as I smelled the gas leak from my ’80 Toyota. Pack a bag with nothing but contact solution and dreams. And hope to heaven that I would have enough gas money to get back.

I’ve had a lot of memorable road trips in my life. They were all, at the time, a little slice of hell. But now that I’m older, I can appreciate the value of each story. I covet those memories. I cherish them. And I hope they’ll make me a lot of money when I sell them off down the road.

(There’s evil laughing in my head right now.)

Anyway.

One of the most memorable trips I’ve had was at the beginning of my freshman year in college. I’d had a rough week and I was itching to just go somewhere (I had what I now call the “yips”…an irrational desire for action of any kind that usually leads me to consuming way too much wine). So I blasted into my dorm room after my last class on a Friday afternoon and said to my roommate, “Pack your bag. We’re going somewhere.”

What she should have done was smile, nod, and run like hell.

Anyway, I can’t remember whose idea it was exactly to bring the Magic 8 Ball. It was probably mine. Along with my creativity comes a lot of thought processes that don’t make any sense at all. (I choose to not think of this as the tipping point to being insane, but that I make life colorful for all of those around me. You’re welcome.) The next thing I know, we’re at a gas station, filling up her Dodge Shadow (which had less pick-up than a tricycle), buying a map, and asking the all-knowing Magic 8 Ball which way we should turn.

This went on until our evening in Northern Colorado turned into 3 AM in Somewhere Texas.

We ended up in a motel just south of the Texas border. “Seedy” would have been the 5 star word for it. The TV was chained to the dresser. There was questionable reading material in the nightstand (if that was the Bible…I didn’t know that we could procreate that way). And I think envelopes would have been more plush than our pillows.

Obviously…I’m a Best Western kind of a girl.

Once our trip had reached our unknown destination, I sat on my bed that had more springs than mattress, and waited to feel better. After all, I had traveled 6 hours…surely what ever issues I’d had, had been locked away in my dorm room for the weekend. And if they’d managed to follow me to Texas…you would think they would have had the sense to at least check into the Holiday Inn. I thought I had gotten away from everything. That even though that Dodge Shadow wasn’t very fast, surely it could out-run my problems.

And you know what I figured out?

Problems have no borders. And they obviously don’t care if breakfast is included. Because there they were…sitting right next to me.

When my husband died, I thought about that trip a lot. How I did everything in my 18-year-old power to get away from what was bothering me. And how it didn’t work. When I lost him, my first inclination was to get the hell out of town and leave the whole mess behind me. You know… “fight or flight” and I definitely didn’t feel like I had it in me to fight. But then 18-year-old in me reminded the 31-year-old me that I could run all I wanted to…but if I didn’t take a stand against my problems and show them who was the boss, they’d take over me.

I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and that all of our life experiences should teach us something. And that I took that trip so that I would know now I had to face my life, confront my problems. Or they would follow me everywhere, waiting to be noticed.

I’m not saying that taking a little vacation now and then as a distraction or to give yourself something to look forward to isn’t a good idea. But the purpose of “getting away” can’t be to get away from what you carry inside. If it is, I’m worried you might be disappointed.

And if you’re not sure about my theory, please test it out at a cheaper motel. I’m only glad that I learned this lesson young, in a little pay-by-the-hour hell hole in Texas and not in the Bahamas or something. That would have completely pissed me off.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shhhh...Listen Carefully. It's The Sound Of Someone Healing

I always thought that going through a profound loss would make someone an expert on loss. I mean, we always work with what we know, right?
You would think after experiencing the death of my husband…I would be one of those people who knew what to say when someone else was going through something similar. That I would have some magical words of comfort. That I would finally know the secret handshake that gets you into the National Grievers Society and thereby bestows upon you everything you need to know about healing others. That I wouldn’t be as stupid as some of the people I have encountered during my meandering walk through the Grief Canyon.

Yup. You would think.

But because of the experience I’ve been through, it makes me more self-conscious than ever that I’m going to say the wrong thing. If there’s one thing I know by now it’s that what one person finds comforting will make another person want to smack you. So, most of the time, I just try and keep my trap shut.

Earlier this summer (Father’s Day weekend, to be exact), I got a double helping of grief. After jollying my kids through Father’s Day, I came home to a memorial service going on next door because my very sweet neighbor had passed away a few weeks earlier. He went into a doctor’s appointment on a Tuesday, was diagnosed with cancer, and by the next Tuesday he was gone.

We were all shocked, to say the least.

Anyway, I always think it’s important, when it comes to this sort of thing, to just show up. Growing up, my parents bestowed upon me the knowledge that nothing is more important at a funeral than a butt in every chair. Meaning: Even if you didn’t know the departed very well…show up. Fill the church. Crowd the house. Nothing makes us feel better than knowing that hundreds of people thought so much of our loved one that they decided to come over and pop open a beer with us.

I don’t know…that could be a Southern thing. There’s really nothing we like better than a good funeral. That’s where you usually find the best food.

Anyway, after my exhausting Father’s Day with the kids, I trudged over to my neighbor’s house for (hopefully) a quick glass of wine and what I had hoped would be a short, but meaningful hug. And in my attempt to keep my foot out of my mouth (so that I could drink more wine), I started asking my neighbor questions about how she and her husband met, how long they’d been married…you know general things like that.

And then something interesting happened.

My neighbor’s face suddenly lit up (as much as it can when you’re fighting against the rip-tide of grief) as she told me their story. She talked on and on about meeting him in college and how crazy and fun he was. She shared stories about raising their kids and talked about the relationships they had with everyone in the room. After awhile, she asked me to go with her to watch a slide show that someone had put together of their life. As I followed her into the living room, the most obvious thing hit me.

We all just want to tell our story. She just wanted to talk.
Not about his illness. Not about what had happened. But about the life they had built together. And about a person who would never be forgotten.
In everyone’s attempt to “say the right thing” in times of grief they’re ignoring a very simple fact that would save everyone a lot of aggravation.
They don’t have to talk at all.

They don’t have to worry about whether saying, “I’m sorry” is going to annoy someone. They shouldn’t even attempt to look at the bright side and say, “Well, at least he went quickly.” They shouldn’t make a pathetic stab at philosophy by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or our FAVORITE: “He’s in a better place now.”

They just have to ask one simple question about the person who is gone. And listen.

I realized that the most healing time I had when my husband was gone, was just sitting around with friends while they asked me questions about us and our life together. Even in my darkest hour, I enjoyed strolling down Memory Lane with anyone who would take the time to listen. Don’t we all? I LOVE it when people ask me how I met my husband. I love it when they look at pictures of me in my younger and more attractive days and ask what we were doing then. I love it when they ask me if all of my kids were fathered by my husband.
(Yes, someone really asked me that question. And if you had ever seen my husband and my kids together in a picture, you would never wonder. They’re all little clones.)

To this day, when I’m feeling blue, I’ll call an old friend and we’ll talk about the kind of person my husband was and the crazy things he did. The story about how he and a buddy tied their trucks together and pulled to see which one was “stronger” (and the visit from the friendly local policeman afterwards) is usually enough to get me into a better mood.

This realization has been such an “ah ha” moment for me. That listening has more healing powers than saying something that you think is comforting while making the other person feel like they’d rather be walking barefoot on glass than listen to you. It’s probably something that everyone else has known for years, but I’m always a little behind on the grief learning curve. So the best thing you can do is smile politely, nod your head, and listen to me ramble about this latest lesson I’ve learned.

‘Cause it will just make me feel better.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Done With This "Being Independent" Thing. It's Way Overrated

I’ve decided that I’m ready to be a dependent again.

Now, I don’t mean that in the gold-digging way that it sounds. You all don’t need to worry that someday you’ll see me on Real Housewives of Denver or something (although that would make for some riveting TV). I just mean that I’m ready to be able to depend on someone again.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty independent person. I’ve always kind of done my own thing, had my own opinions about stuff, and could very easily get into a mood where I really don’t care what people think.

Even when I was married, I felt like I was independent. I was the first one to run off and get married at the ripe, old age of 20. For awhile I had a pretty successful career. I was the first one to have a kid. And I was the first one who quit work and actually stayed home with my children.

Now, some people would choose to think of this as “dependent” because my husband was the primary breadwinner. But those of you who have chosen to stay home with your kids, know that it takes a certain amount of courage to withstand those judgmental looks from the other people around you because you’ve given up your career. Actually…we all pretty much get those judgmental looks. Because even if you decide to go back to work, that means you’re neglecting your kids.

Am I right? Or am I right.

Anyway, I’ve pretty much always led the life I wanted to and in the process I confused this with independence. In reality, living the life you want to live and doing what feels right isn’t actually independence. It’s should just be considered…life.

When I quit my job, most of my friends were pretty supportive, some were even admiring. Because after they all started having kids, they understood how strong you have to be to stay at home with a child who sleeps during the day, is up all night, doesn’t talk, and has blowouts at inopportune times all day, every day. This phase only gets replaced by a child who talks all the time, never sleeps, and still has to use the bathroom at inopportune times. Like when you’re 12 deep in the line at Wal-Mart or stuck in traffic on the highway. After awhile, going to work seems like a break.

Boy…we didn’t see that coming in our early 20s, did we?

A few of my friends saw my staying at home as a huge risk. What if my husband should lose his job? What would we do then? How would we make it? But since life had been pretty good to me up until that point and the economy hadn’t tanked yet, I chose to believe that that would probably never happen. And if it did, I knew my husband well enough to know that he would do anything, take any job, to keep us going. And if I needed to, I knew I would do the same.

Who would have thought, years later, that just losing a job would have been something I would have welcomed, given the alternative?

In the comforting stupidity of youth, most of us were na├»ve enough to believe that really bad things didn’t happen to us. You remember how in your teens you were pretty much invincible? Well, in your 20s, you’re just starting to realize that you aren’t. And your 30s are when you start taking the stairs a little bit more carefully, instead of jumping down the last 5 (in case you should hurt yourself). You don’t run and slide on the ice because if you break something and don’t show up the next day for work you won’t get paid, so you tip-toe over it. And you start realizing the true implications of a DUI and that it’s something to be embarrassed about (not bragged about, as it would have been in your younger, wilder days) so you always travel with a DD.

When my husband died in my early 30s, I think I became the first, true wake-up call to my friends that bad things could happen inside our circle. My closest friends started to really check up on what they had for life insurance and disability. Everyone started to give their significant other one extra hug in the morning, just in case. And I started to get some really sad looks because I had been a “dependent” all those years and what in the heck was I going to do now??

I never really knew what it meant to be truly independent until I was forced into it by the death of my husband. But the definition of "independence" has changed for me over the years. The truth is, I’ve come to know myself well enough, that if I need to make something happen, I make it happen. I may not be able to do everything and do it well, but I can make a pretty good stab at it. My breakfast dishes don’t get done until 5 PM, but at least everyone got fed.

I’m in a “glass is half full” kind of mood today. Go with me here.

Where my dependence on my husband was, was in the partnership and friendship we had. Having that person ask about my day. Having someone to call and share news with…good, bad, or otherwise. Having that extension of me and knowing that there was someone out there who cared as much about what happened in my life as I did…’cause it was his life too.

It had absolutely nothing to do with who made the most money.

I’ve realized since he’s been gone, that being dependent takes a lot more guts than being independent. It takes trust. It takes faith. Having the courage to lean on someone else. And having the strength to hold them up as well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oh To Be A Kid Again...The Luxury Of Emotional Honesty

As the mother of three small children rarely a day passes when I don’t get a tantrum out of at least one of them. And, as the single mother of three small children, rarely a day passes when I don’t get completely annoyed with the screaming, crying, and (sometimes) kicking that happens all around me, regardless of time or place.

I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t wish it away. I just usually pray that it doesn’t happen in the middle of Wal-Mart.

Then again…why should I be different from any other parent there?

But the other day, as my son was gearing up for a whopper, I didn’t get annoyed. I experienced an emotion that I had never felt before.

I was jealous.

As I sat out on my back porch, I could still clearly hear the sounds of an emotional train barreling through my son’s room. And instead of wanting to run away from it myself, I stared up at his window in wonder and muttered, “Damn. That’s a good one.”

He was pissed and he didn’t care who heard it. He was in a rage, ready and willing to just let ‘er rip. I could almost feel the head-rush he must have had as he yelled with all of his might. And I thought, “How lucky is he that he can go up to his room, completely let loose, and kick the shit out of anything that isn’t moving out of his way?”

I started daydreaming about doing it myself. Going into my room and screaming and crying until my head started pounding and I collapsed on my bed, completely spent. Slamming the door a million times if I felt like it. Swiping the contents of my desk into a heaping pile of junk on the floor and then stomping on it with all of my might. Who cares if the windows are open? Who cares if the whole neighborhood hears? Who cares if it makes someone feel uncomfortable?

Who the hell cares???

Many people talk about how resilient children are. And I think that’s true. But that could be because we give them the emotional freedom to feel however they need to. The way they express their emotions when they’re young is completely unshaped by the expectations of others and is, therefore, completely honest.

But eventually, those tantrums at the store are met with a time-out. Crying, kicking, and screaming results in privileges taken away. Getting so mad they just want to hit something (or someone) is completely unacceptable.

By the time our kids are teenagers, they’ve already started to understand that having a nervous breakdown in public is “just not cool.” We try and try, after loss, to get them to express themselves when all the years before that, we basically said, “That’s not okay.” We’ve confused them by telling them all their lives that they need to keep their emotions in check and then suddenly we start telling them that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to break down.

When society has been telling them all the years before this happened that it’s not.

Once we hit adulthood, society’s tolerance for emotional outbursts is non-existent. I mean, how many times have you screamed and cried in the middle of the grocery store? I’m guessing zero. And how many times have you wanted to? Probably too many to count.

Think of it this way. When I brought my kids to group counseling a few years ago…you know what they had? The Volcano Room. It had a million stuffed animals, balls, soft blocks, and the floor and walls were completely covered in padding. The kids could go in there and throw, punch, kick, and pummel anything they could get their hands on.

And where were the adults and older kids? In “discussion” rooms according to age, calmly talking about various topics related to grieving.

What happens to our tantrums? What happens to our anger, our rage, our overwhelming grief about our situation?

It gets replaced with a smile, a nod, and a, “I’m fine. How are you?”

And…not that the kids don’t need an outlet to express themselves…but who do you think is really in need of a Volcano Room?

You can’t see me right now, but I’m raising my hand.

What would happen if we allowed ourselves the emotional freedom to just…feel? I want to walk into a padded room and throw the grocery list…the bills…the back-to-school forms…the insurance paperwork…just chuck ‘em at a wall over and over until the paper is crumpled and soft. I want to scream until my throat is raw. I want to kick at those padded walls until my legs are sore. I want to pull an Office Space and take a baseball bat to every appliance in my house that has the nerve not to work properly.

I want to take my emotions out on an innocent teddy bear.

And you know what I think really keeps me from doing it? Knowing that I’m the grown-up and I have to tow the line and keep things moving. Worrying that once I start, I just may not be able to stop. Understanding that honest emotion takes up time that I just don’t have. And, of course, my overwhelming and somewhat irrational concern about what other people will think if I just let go.

All of that and knowing...I’m the one who’ll have to clean up the mess when I’m done.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Drying My Eyes

This is it. This is when you all decide that I’ve crossed over. The only thing I can say in my defense is that…if I’m crazy…I’m taking you down with me.

So, the other day, my dryer quit. Now, I don’t have the detailed specifics. I checked its pulse. I held a mirror up in front of it. But before I knew it…it was gone.

Now, I’m guessing that dryers quit in multiple thousands of households every day. And I’m guessing that the level of annoyance when that happens is probably about the same.

Except.

My dryer has a history. In fact, my whole washer/dryer combo has a history. It’s probably not interesting to anyone else but me. But that doesn’t mean the history is not there.

In short…I moved to Florida after my husband and I got married. We didn’t have much money. No…wait. We didn’t have ANY money. However…and this may sound strange…we still wanted clean clothes.

Our area in Florida was known as the second worst county in the United States for rust. Which meant that (when you don’t have money) you’re not all that excited about putting a brand new washer and dryer in a garage (where the utility hook-ups are) filled with salt watered air. One could say that their value might depreciate. Or rust from the inside out until you go outside to find a pile of rust and underwear. So we did what any normal couple would do with no money.

We went to an estate sale.

I LOOOOVE estate sales. I’m the ultimate bargain shopper. So when we bought a piano at this sale and the sellers mentioned they would just throw in the washer and dryer for free we were on board. I mean…tell that to a couple who have been living on Ramen for 3 months and that’s the equivalent of winning the lottery.

When we had our little washer/dryer windfall, we told ourselves, “If they last us a year, it will have been a good (free) investment.”

So 14 years, 3 kids, and 1 deceased husband later, I’m replacing the dryer. I’d say that it has served us well.

This is when the “crazy me” emerges.

When the (always nice) delivery people from Lowes came to my house to deliver the new dryer and take the old one, I had the most irrational urge to tow-strap the 2 of them to the 2 wheeled dolly and say, “Did you know that this was so hard for us to buy 14 years ago? Did you know that my husband moved and installed this damn thing in at least 3 houses? How could you just take something that looks old but washed my husband’s clothes and not even give it a second thought???”

If this had actually happened I would have chalked it up to a Widow Moment. And then tipped them well.

A few days later, I was trying to explain my almost crazy behavior to my mom. To further secure her sainthood, she just replied, “You know what? The day that your great aunt replaced her old washer in her carriage house in Louisiana…well…it brought me to tears. And your grandmother and grandfather looked at me (in my early teens) like I was crazy.”

Well. It’s nice to know that appliance grief is genetic.

All I keep thinking is…if I’m so sad about selling that damn dryer…how am I going to feel when I decide to sell my house? The house that we remodeled and made our own, but may not fit us eventually? I mean…think of all of the appliances I’ll have to let go of.

Is there a word for this in therapy? “Appli-widowed-can’t-move-on-a-phobia?”


© Catherine Tidd 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's "Back-to-School" Time...But I've Already Graduated

I’m not one of those sentimental mothers when it comes to school. I didn’t get upset when I sent my oldest to her first day of preschool. I didn’t hide in the bushes with a camera trying to capture those first recess moments (actually, I don’t think anyone could get away with that now. But that could be a great essay topic for a kid someday: “The Day the SWAT Team Came for My Mom”). And I don’t usually cry at all of the unnecessary graduations I think children have these days.

When my son “graduated” from Kindergarten last year, one of the secretaries asked me on my way out, “So…did you cry?”

Well, no.

The truth is…since I’ve started doing this on my own, I’m pretty excited about any steps my kids take towards further independence.

It’s not like I’m ready to ship them off or anything. I just have dreams of, someday, being able to run to the store on my own for a gallon of milk. Of putting on the old iPod and taking a few laps around the block without someone screaming, “MOM! Wait!! I have a rock in my shoe!!!” And I’m wondering what age my kids have to be when I get to wake them up at 10 AM on a Saturday rather than hope they “sleep in” until seven.

My kids are starting school this week and as much as my brain always looks forward to it (because that means it gets a break from the headaches of screaming children), my heart seems to be rebelling this year. Even though I’ve been looking forward to this day since about the second week of summer vacation, today I have been walking around with a chest that won’t let me take a deep breath and tears that threaten to erupt at any moment.

I will admit that part of the problem seems to be that the schools appear to be more disorganized than usual this year. Because of this, I would like to take one of those administrators who smile at me in a vacant way and shake them until they’re as frustrated as I am trying to get 3 children to just “follow me for one minute, damn it!!” into the school, buried under a 50 pounds of school supplies.

(This is when “Widow Parking” would come in handy.)

I’d like to think that if my husband had been here, I wouldn’t have been struggling alone and that he would have been one of the handful of husbands who were there along with their wives…wondering why they were there. But the reality is that I’m sure I would have been calling him while he was on a business trip 1500 miles away telling him, tearfully, about my day.

But at least he would have been someone to call.

That frustration aside, I don’t remember having this emotional problem last year or the year before. I don’t think I was teary. I don’t think I felt overwhelmed. I don’t think that I thought about acts of violence towards elementary school employees (who…lets face it…have their own problems. They’re now dealing with my kids all day).

Is it possible…in all of my “moving on” as a widow…that I’ve finally made a widow U-turn and regressed? I mean, surely if you can regress in potty training, you can regress with grief. You’re still leaking. Just in different ways.

I don’t know if it’s that I’m finally getting to a place where I feel pretty good most of the time...I’m starting to look back on certain moments and can’t believe I actually went through them. And sometimes I look at moments yet to come and can’t believe they’re still ahead.

My oldest entered the first grade mere weeks after my husband passed. She hadn’t even turned 6 yet and there she was, getting ready to go into the big, bad world of elementary school while I was entering the big, bad world of widowhood. I have no recollection of any back-to-school nights or shopping for school supplies. I hadn’t even thought about how the PTO could benefit from my expertise. I honestly can’t even remember if I went to meet her teacher ahead of time.

And if I did, I’m sure I made a whopping good impression.

We struggled that entire year. I did my best to make sure that I packed her the right lunches and got her there on time. I juggled getting the two younger ones to preschool, mainly so that I could get busy at home, sitting on the edge of my bed, staring at a wall. Or my other favorite pastime…laying horizontally in my bed, staring at the ceiling.

You know…all the things that you can’t do when the kids are around.

I’ve been thinking about that time in my life a lot lately. About how I went from barely being able to get a child on a bus, to getting all 3 enrolled, to school, on time (usually), in weather appropriate clothes (except the flip-flop incident of 2009). It took us a few years, but we’re getting it. I miss my husband constantly (especially when it comes to math homework), but I’m starting to really comprehend that this is the reality. And it’s okay.

For the first time, I’m starting to understand that the reason I find thinking about those times in my life as so sad…is because that’s not who we are anymore. And I feel sorry for those people who exist only in my memory. What a blow they had been dealt! I only wish they could meet us now and know that they’ll be okay.

I guess it’s time for my own “graduation.”


© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grieving Our Happiness: Good Golly We're A Confusing Bunch

This is a new concept. It might be confusing, but go with me here.

I think it’s possible to be happy and grieve at the same time.

I don’t mean that we’re happy that we’re grieving. I mean that it’s possible to feel happy with what’s going on around you, but still grieve the fact that the person you most wish could share those moments with you…is gone.

So…I guess what I’m saying is…we’re grieving because we’re happy?

Good Lord. No wonder no one ever wants to talk to us. We’re a bunch of lunatics.

I remember, not long after my husband died…ugh…I hate to admit this…I had a good day. I actually had that feeling of hope that it was possible that I could lead a productive, fulfilling, and…yes…happy life even though he was gone. I had a sudden flash and a vision of the future…a future without him. And as soon as that thought struck me…

…I felt terrible.

How could I? How dare I smile and interact with a stranger or a friend as if nothing had ever happened? How could I make plans to take a trip when he wasn’t here to go with me? How could I plan anything for the future without feeling like I was excluding him in some way?

And the ultimate question: Did that mean I didn’t love my husband enough because I found a way to go on without him?

This is a problem that plagued me for a good long while. I can’t even tell you the feelings of guilt I had. It honestly made me doubt the depths of my love for him and the connection we had shared for 13 years. And no matter how many people told me, “He would want you to be happy. He would want you to go on,” I never felt any better about it.

Because…really…what are they supposed to say? “I knew your husband pretty well and he’d really rather you throw away all of your make-up, invest in a line of muumuus, and never leave your house.”

Yeah. That would be helpful.

Here’s the thing…and it’s really pretty basic. You have one thing you can’t choose and one thing you can:

1. NO CHOICE: You have to go on. At some point you have to even leave your house because that wine and bag of Lays won’t show up at your doorstep, ring your bell, and announce that they’re ready to party.
2. CHOICE: How are you going to do it? When it comes down to it, if you make the choice to give into the grief all day, every day, for the rest of your life, the only person you’re hurting is yourself. If you make the choice to make the most of every day (because, for most us, if our spouses were here that’s what they would be doing) you’re choosing to not only change your life, but I’m guessing you’ll affect more people than you will ever know.

Happiness is not a constant. It’s not a state that we’re always in and we should never expect that. There are times when we have to give into our grief. If we didn't...we would explode in one, big widow mess. I don't even think it could be contained by a fashionable muumuu.

I don’t want for this to sound bad, or like I don’t have a lot of happy memories with my husband, but I remember having several moments when I thought to myself while he was alive, “I am completely happy right now.” My heart felt full, our relationship was in a good place, and the kids weren’t fighting. We may have been at a point when I wasn’t worried about our finances (and that usually lasted about 5 minutes), anyone’s health, and had nothing potentially hazardous on the horizon.

Think about it…those moments of pure happiness…they’re fleeting. They’re rare. They give us an appreciation of what’s possible. And they leave us with the goal of creating them again.

When we lose someone…well…it’s hard to get those happy moments back. Some may say it’s impossible because no matter how happy we are, there will still be a part of us that wishes our spouse was there to share with us.

But I’ve decided to make a choice. Instead of grieving my moments of happiness, I’ve decided to do something radical. I’ve decided that every time I’m happy, I will believe, with all my heart, that my husband is here to share them with me. I’ve decided that if I buy a new home, he’ll be right next to me giving me a pat on the back. I’ve decided that if I meet my girlfriends for Happy Hour, he’ll be right there laughing along with us (and probably listening to things he shouldn’t). I’ve decided that I won’t think of those milestones that my kids have as being missed by him…but rather that he’s there, behind the scenes, probably seeing more of them than I am. I may be there to play the toothfairy, but he was in the room when the tooth was lost.

I’m making a choice to not let my grief take over the moments of happiness I still have in front of me. If I let that happen for the rest of my life…I’m wasting what could be some amazing moments yet to come. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned at this point it’s this….

Grief is not a choice. But happiness can be.


© Catherine Tidd 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Be Patient Love...I'm Trying To Make Some Room In Here

I think there’s a misperception, when we start dating, that we have moved on.

Actually, let me start a little further back.

I hate the phrase “moved on.”

Moved on from what? Our lives? Our memories? Can anyone do that?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to move on. Do I want to have a happy life? Yes. Do I think that it’s possible? Yes. Do I think I can have a happy life and carry the memories (both good and bad) of my husband with me?

Absolutely.

So…I’m sorry for all of those people who have been patiently waiting for me to “move on” these last 3 years. It ain’t happening. Because wherever I’m moving to, my husband’s going right along with me. It’s just annoying that he’s not here to help me pack.

Okay. Back to my original topic. I’m feeling a little ADD today.

Depending on when you start dating, those around you are somewhat happy to see that you’re getting on with things. It makes them uncomfortable for awhile, but then most people start looking at you like you’re normal again. After all, you talking about the latest date you went on is a hell of a lot more normal than you talking about the urn you just bought. And if they haven’t been through a loss themselves, you dating looks like you’re starting from scratch. Like you’re ready to dump that old life and “move on.”

Yeah. Not so much.

I think that it’s the idea of “moving on” that has a lot of us nervous about dating again. We’re worried that if we find someone new, we’ll have to give up the person we loved. That to find love again means that we have to keep the grieving part of us to ourselves and not let a potentially new significant other see how we will carry this with us always. That in order to be ready to love again, we have to give up the relationship we had with our spouse, otherwise someone new might feel threatened.

Lemme ask you this: If you met a widow and you were interested in dating them, wouldn’t it worry you a little if they didn’t ever talk about their deceased spouse? I mean, I’d want someone who is honest with their feelings. I know that’s very girly, but what can I say? If I met someone who never really talked about how much he missed his deceased wife, I’d wonder about what kind of person he is.

And keep in mind…if you’re not honest about it from the beginning, all it takes is one well-timed glass of chardonnay before you start spilling your guts and you really shock the hell out of them.

Well…maybe that’s just me.

We need to stop thinking of the idea of dating as “replacing.” We need to start thinking of it as “adding.” We’re not trying to replace the person who’s gone. We are trying to add another person who can be comfortable with the idea that it is possible for us to love more than one person. We’re trying to find someone who doesn’t mind sharing our heart with someone who’s not here. It’s just up to us to tell our lost spouse to shove over and make a little room.

I like to think of it as a very spiritual 3-way.

(Sorry, Mom.)

There is no way that we can successfully “get rid of” the person we have lost. That would be like asking us to get rid of a part of us. And I hate to tell you this…but that’s just not possible. And it’s not necessary. There are people out there who can understand that just because you still love your spouse, doesn’t mean that you can’t love them.

It just means that they recognize that you are capable of more love than probably anyone else they know.

Those of us who are widowed do have a unique challenge when it comes to dating. It’s up to us to find someone who not only understands our struggle with the memories of who we’ve lost, but welcomes them into the relationship. To find someone who laughs at our happy memories with us. Who hugs us when we’re feeling blue. Who knows that the person we’ve lost, has helped shape us into the person they love.

The bonus is…when we find that person…we know beyond a shadow of a doubt…we’ve got the pick of the litter.

And so do they.



© Catherine Tidd 2010