Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Decorating: My Own Personal 12 Step Program

I’m going to admit something to you that is rather shocking.

I do not, nor have I ever since entering Widowdom, felt guilty about decorating for the holidays.

I know.  Pick yourself up off of the floor.

Since the first holiday my husband was gone...I haven’t minded decorating on my own.  Oh sure...I miss the memories of putting the tree up together and making sure it’s not at a 45 degree angle.  Getting out the ornaments that we bought when we were young and had no money.  Fearfully watching my husband skate across an icy roof to put up twinkle lights (why in the hell do we do that???  It seems so important at the time, but do you ever just think about how silly and freaking dangerous that is???).

Good times.

But as far as actually picking out the decorations and getting the house ready...I’m okay with doing it on my own.

Now, this is something that I haven’t said to anyone.  I thought that if I ever admitted this...it might get me kicked out of the club.  Like I wouldn’t be considered a real widow if I admitted that I liked decorating for Christmas on my own. I feel like in the last 4 years I’ve been in my own “12 Step Program For Decorating Unguiltiness.” 

This is step 10...admitting to my friends and family that I don’t have a problem.

My husband and I never agreed on holiday decorating.  I didn’t realize how bad it was until after we got married.  I stupidly assumed that I was marrying a man, much like my own father, who could give a shit about what lights I had on the tree or what wreath I chose for the outside.  I had no idea that the first Christmas we were married would be a true test of our relationship. 

We actually did without some key decorations because we couldn’t agree on them.

Like ornaments.

In retrospect, I can understand that those fights were stupid.  Arguing about whether or not you should have an angel on the top of the tree or a star...in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean too much.

But back in the first year of marriage, it seemed like if I gave in and let him have that star...well...there would be no end to the things he would take advantage of! 

Oh c’mon.  You have to stand your ground early.  And what better time to do that than the holidays?

Anyway.

The first year he was gone, I will admit...I didn’t mind decorating the house myself.  Yes, I TOTALLY missed him sitting on the couch and sleeping while the kids and I decorated the tree.  But for the first time...I could finally have the lights I had always wanted.  I could decorate the mantel like something out of Country Living...instead of implementing the dream decoration he had seen in Sports Illustrated that inspired a whole Steelers/Baby Jesus theme.  I could listen to the old 1950s classic Christmas carols...instead of “White Snake Wishes You A Merry D%$* Christmas.”

Okay...before you go clicking on Amazon...they never made that album.  But you get my drift.

In all seriousness...did I miss my husband?  YES. I have missed him every holiday, every birthday, and everyday that ends in “day” since he’s been gone.  But the truth is...this desire to create my own Christmas...actually wasn’t such a bad thing.  I have so many things around that are still ours.  They’re just rearranged in a way that I like.  They will always be ours...that’s the miracle of a $1 decoration from 12 years ago.   But I’ve changed them...just a little...so that the way my house looks...it’s me...with him mixed in for magic.

Every ornament has a memory...and they’re right in there with the new ones.  There are old cookie tins in a new place that remind me of his favorite sweets.  There are his old decorations on the mantel...with some new ones thrown in that are all me.

I even have a star at the top of the tree.  Instead of an angel.  

You win, sweetie.


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


© Catherine Tidd 2010


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Top 10 Things I Am Thankful For This Year

1. 
I am thankful that I'm not Charlie Sheen's Publicist.

2. 
Since I'm spending Thanksgiving at someone else’s house, I am thankful that I have been relieved of "taking the guts out of the turkey" duty.

3. 
While I'm NOT thankful that my sink and dishwasher are clogged, thereby rendering them completely useless right now, I am choosing to embrace this as just another obstacle to overcome and make me grow.  THEREFORE...I am thankful that I am spending Thanksgiving as the pilgrims did...without Cascade or a garbage disposal (and that I'm spending it at someone else’s house.  Dodged a bullet there).

4. 
I am thankful that none of my kids are Justin Bieber fans.


5. 
I’m not thankful for what the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening process means for us as far as our terrorist threat level is concerned...but a good “pat down” at the airport is the most action I’ve seen in awhile.  Thank you for my new “social life,” TSA.  You’re saving me a fortune on Match.com.

6.   
I am thankful for my Starbucks drive-thru. 

7. 
I am thankful that I am able to work well within a widow’s budget since the wine I secretly like the best is $5 a bottle.  And generic Motrin works just fine for me.  On my way through my Starbucks drive-thru.

8. 
While I’m disappointed that Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon have chosen to procreate, this year I will focus on the positive and just be thankful that they’re not having twins.

9. 
I’m thankful for that sweet little woman at the Conifer, CO Qdoba who did her best to keep me from abandoning my son in the parking lot on my husband's birthday last week by offering me a free kids meal and a side of chips and gauc.  You rock, Qdoba Lady.  My son lived to see another day because of you.

10. 
MOST of all...I’m ever thankful for my friends, new and old.  To my old friends...you’ve put up with tears, mood swings, rum-infused tears and mood swings, hysterical laughter that makes no sense in the moment, and a sometimes absentee friend who you always know is doing the best she can.

To my new friends...both here and far away...you’ve put up with the same, but most of you are online so it doesn’t seem quite so bad.  But you’ve been kind to me when I’ve posted things that make absolutely NO sense, thereby making me feel like you can read my thoughts and know what I’m really getting at. 

Without the new and the old, the past and the present...I would never be able to get through this journey.  You’ve all taught me to cherish my memories and look forward to new ones. 

And for that I will be forever thankful.


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


© Catherine Tidd 2010


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Excuse Me? I Wasn't Ready. Can I Get A Restart?



What made me think I could start clean-slated?  The hardest to learn was the least complicated.
                        --The Indigo Girls




Don’t think that I don’t recognize the fact that so many of you are much more advanced in the fine art of grieving than I am.  I’m that kid in the back of the class who urgently raises her hand with an answer when most of the class is thinking, “We already knew that.  Next?”

I know, I know.  I always tell you guys that I’m a work in progress.

It took me forever to grasp the fact that I would always be a widow.  In fact...I still have moments when I think, “Wait...what?” 

For the first few months, I kept thinking, “If I could just make to that year mark, I won’t be widowed anymore!  No one will think of me as widowed!  This loss will not be such a big deal and surely I won’t be as upset as I am now!  People won’t look at me funny and I will be completely back to normal!”

My 31 year old self was in for a huge disappointment.  And since I was, at that time, the only widow I knew, I had no one there saying, “Slow down!  Iceberg ahead!!”

Once I started to understand the concept that this was something that would always be inside me, I was ready to start over.  Start fresh.  Be gone old self!  Replace thyself with a sleeker and more sophisticated model!

I could be perfect.  People would never understand the depths of my perfectness.  I would be studied by people across the world.  I could reinvent myself to become the perfect mom.  The perfect co-worker.  The perfect significant other.

ICEBERG!!!

I’m going to share something with you that I know will shock the hell out of you.

I was not the perfect wife.

No...no...really.  I wasn’t.  I was moody, demanding, and wanted things to be my way.

And guess what?  My husband wasn’t the perfect husband.

Even after he died, I never put him up on a pedestal and thought, “I will never find someone as perfect as he was.”  Because the truth was...he wasn’t perfect.  He was...take a deep breath...

...a guy.

Now, after he passed away and I finally felt ready to date, I spent a good while actually swinging the complete opposite direction from “he was so perfect.”  I was doing my best to start my life over and that meant keeping my memories, but doing my best to erase my own emotional baggage so that I could get down to business and find a life (and a mate) that would make me divinely, and perfectly happy.

I mean, seriously...I’m due, right?

I think in one phase of my life, I actually went so far in the “starting over” direction that I started to think some not so good thoughts about my marriage to my late husband.  All I could think of were the fights we had.  The things we didn’t like to do together.  Every little thing that made us incompatible.

And I became terrified of making the same mistakes all over again.

But here’s something I want you to think about...because I just got it myself.  When you think that way, it paralyzes you just as much as thinking everything about your marriage was perfect.

I went through a long period where every new person I met, I would analyze what was going on more than I can even explain.  I mean, we all know that women tend to “over-think” right?  (There are men reading this right now who are having a good laugh and thinking, “Over-think???  You people are bat-shit crazy!”)  But I was taking it to the extreme.  Every date, every conversation, every little thing about someone, I would wonder, “Was my husband like this?  Did I feel this way on our first date?  Do I like the way he picks out furniture?  Is his car too messy? Hmmm...I don’t think this is going to work.”

When I finally confessed to my therapist that I was doing this, she very calmly told me, “You can’t recreate that relationship.  Good, bad, or otherwise.  You’re not the same person.”

I mean...I can’t make the same decisions now that I made when my husband and I first met.  I’m not a sophmore in college.  I’m a grown woman with kids.  What I’m looking for now is nothing like I was looking for then.  Back then a big requirement for dating someone was if he could sneak me into a bar when I was 19.  My needs have totally changed.

I can get in legally now.

I can’t correct the mistakes that I made with my husband.  And truthfully...they weren’t that big. They were all a part of what we in society call “marriage.”  And I can’t ask someone to correct the mistakes my husband made. 

I mean, if someone new is sitting there watching football, I can’t just throw a hissy fit and yell, “You’ve been ignoring me for years!”

Believe me...that’s a good way to get broken up with in a text.

Part of this journey is figuring out where we are now.  We all know that there are memories we will cherish for a lifetime as well as things we’d rather forget.  That’s true of anyone...widowed or not.  Just as we can’t make our kids live the childhood we wish we had had...we can’t expect someone new to recreate the relationship we might have wished we had had.


We take it all with us.  The bad things we’ve learned from.  The good things we would give anything to have again.  The fights.  The hugs.  The blessings and the opportunities missed.  They’re a part of who we are now.  And we can’t start over.

We can start again.


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


© Catherine Tidd 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Thought I Could....

Since I blogged this morning about my intention to have a good day today, my husband’s birthday, I felt like it was only fair to bookend it with how the day actually went.

I’ll give you a hint...I’m sitting here with a vodka/orange juice in my hand because on top of what happened today...I feel like I’m coming down with a cold. 

This beverage is the only way I can figure out how to combat both my day and my cold at the same time.

The morning started out okay.  We left the house full of hope and optimism, setting out for the grocery store to buy balloons before we headed up to the mountains.  All the kids decided to get the same color balloon (which was a miracle in itself) and having this decision made would save me at least an hour in the Helium Section.  

As we walked to the floral department, I decided at the last minute to buy my husband one single yellow rose (like he used to give to me) as a birthday present if they had one.  I looked up at the “single” bouquets and there it was...a single yellow rose right smack in the middle of a bunch of white ones.  It was the only one they had.

All good signs, right?

We left the store, all holding a Starbucks cup (hot cocoa for them, caffeine for me) ready to conquer the day!

Apparently that was when Good Karma decided to leave early for Thanksgiving to beat the holiday rush.

We were about 30 minutes out of town, driving in the old minivan, when my oldest suddenly screamed out, “MOM!!!!!  She drew on the seat with marker!!!” 

Sure enough, I would find out later...my 4 year old had decided to make her own permanent seat covers by doing some sort of abstract drawing of a “zebra playing catch with a fish while driving a semi” creation on the third row seat of my car.

Now...what I was expected to do about it while going 75 miles an hour on the highway...I still do not know.

The most interesting thing about this was that it sent my son into a frenzy of reprimanding her.  Never mind that he had actually stamped his own name (in permanent marker) on the back seat last year.

Anyway.  Still determined that this would not get me down, I took a deep breath and just decided to get over it then and there.  I could wash it off, right?  In the grand scheme of things...what’s a little marker (or mural) in a minivan anyhow?  That child could be famous some day!  She probably just raised the value of this car by thousands.

Yeah!  That’s it!

As we started getting closer to the “last stop” before we really got to the middle of nowhere, I thought I should be proactive and stop for a potty/lunch break, even though my son had assured me that if he had to go to the bathroom, he could find an obliging tree.  Feeling like peeing in the middle of a cemetery might be frowned upon, I pulled off the highway and spotted the only restaurant in town that didn’t involve fries (Qdoba).

Once inside, my 9 year old daughter very politely asked if she could sit next to me in the booth and I (not seeing the shit storm ahead) said yes.

At that moment, for some reason, my 6 year old son suddenly decided that sitting next to my 4 year old daughter was akin to sitting next to 50 pounds of plutonium and proceeded to throw a complete fit.  And I mean...a fit.

I learned a very valuable lesson today.  My desire and determination to “make it a good day” is no match for the temper of my 6 year old boy. 

I gave him “the look.”  I gave him that scary mommy-angry-under-the-breath voice.  Finally I dragged his 6 year old butt over to the check out where I was standing, just trying to buy quesadillas in peace.

The very sweet people working there asked if they could help me to my table and I calmly replied, “No, thank you.  He can carry his lunch and I’ve got the rest.”

At which point my son stomped his feet and his lunch slid to the floor.

Seeing what I’m sure looked like my eyes spinning around and smoke coming out of my ears, the wonderful woman at the cash register looked at me and said cheerfully, “We can clean this up!  Here’s a free quesadilla!  And here...chips and guacamole!  It’s okay...I have children!”

It was like she was trying to convince me that, with enough greasy Mexican food, I would have the strength to raise this child to adulthood.  I was about ready to hug her and take her home with me.

I sat at the table, a lump in my throat so big I couldn’t even eat.  What was I doing???  Were the “powers that be” trying to tell me that I couldn’t do this alone???  Why didn’t I pick a restaurant that served wine??????

Once back in the car, tears rolling down my face (and my kids blissfully unaware of my nervous breakdown thanks to Scooby Doo on DVD), we finally made it up to my husband’s final resting place.  I placed the rose on his headstone.  The kids and I sang “Happy Birthday,” made a wish, and let the balloons go.  We were having such a nice time, we decided to scrap our original plan for the second half of the day...wandering around the Museum of Nature and Science.  We thought we’d just catch the IMAX on the Hubble Telescope so that we could hang out by the creek a little longer.

For about 30 minutes...everyone was happy.

I finally called the 5 minute warning so that we could get to the movie downtown on time.  I had left us plenty of time and even worried about what I would do to keep them occupied when we got there too early.  As some of you may know...the IMAX doesn’t let people in early.  And, at the appointed time, the doors close and NO ONE can get in.

We were 2 minutes late.

Still determined that I could beat this day into submission, I checked my phone for other movie listings.  And...what’s this????  Another IMAX that’s showing the Hubble movie???  And it’s closer to my house????

Choosing to ignore the fact that I was dumb enough to not check this in the first place, I rushed the kids into the car and went as fast as I could (in rush hour traffic) to get to the theater.  For the first time, I felt like Fate was offering me her hand and saying, “Here.  Let me help you.  I’ll even get you there early.  And you can grab some pizza with the kids before the movie starts.  In fact...let me buy you a Bud Light for your trouble.”

As we waited for our pizza, the man at the next table leaned over and asked, “Excuse me?  Do you know where the IMAX is?”

And I said, “Yes!  It’s right across the street!  We’re headed there ourselves to see the movie on the Hubble Telescope.  Is that what you’re seeing?”

He said, “No.  There’s a movie about migration.  Gosh...I didn’t know they had so many theaters.”

Now wait...I couldn’t have this wrong could I???  I dug out my phone and checked trusty old Yahoo! movies and sure enough...Hubble Telescope.  November 19th.  Six PM.

We finished our pizza and made it there right on time.  I parked the car in front, flipped on the hazards, and told the kids, “Wait here.  I’m going to double check and make sure it’s playing.”

Sure enough.  I walk into the theater and what do I see?

Migration.

I plop myself back into the car, ram the gear shift into drive, and yell, “HOME!  Pay Per View Movie!” 

This declaration was met with noisy applause from the backseat.

I almost make it home when it hits.  Complete hysteria.  I’m laughing.  I’m crying.  I’m laughing so hard I’m crying.  I’m afraid I may have snorted a couple of times.

The kids are suddenly very quiet in the backseat.  Finally, my oldest says quietly, “Mom?  What’s so funny?”

Still laughing uncontrollably, I answer, “Oh sweetie.  This was just a bad day.  I mean, not all parts of it were bad.  We did some fun things.  But sometimes things get so bad they’re funny.  Remember how I always tell you if you’re getting bullied the best thing you can do is laugh right in their face?  Well, today bullied me.”

HA.


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


© Catherine Tidd 2010

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can....

The dreaded day has finally knocked on my door and made itself at home today.  Yup.  my husband’s birthday just walked right in, grabbed a beer, stole my remote, and made itself comfortable on my couch.

Now you know why I dread it so much.  It never lets me watch “The View.”

Yesterday I finally told myself that it’s time to practice what I preach.  I’ve spent the last week with a constant lump in my throat and a really bad attitude.  And yesterday I decided that it was enough.  I know I can’t control my grief, but today, my husband’s birthday, I am going to take many deep breaths, cry a little (I’m sure), and make a conscious decision to have a good day.

I’m a big believer that the way we live our lives and the things we can make happen are something that we can, on a certain level, decide.  I’m not delusional enough to think I can control everything.  But I believe that if I want to get going with my life, whether it’s with my job, or finding a new relationship, or making life better for my kids...that I can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen.  Sometimes life will happen to you.  But sometimes you make life happen. 

And today that’s what I’m going to do.

As I sit here and type this, I’m taking my famous 4 deep breaths (thanks, hubby), and making a conscious decision to have a good family day with the kids.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

As many of you know, I had to give a speech yesterday, and I spent the week cursing myself for scheduling it the day before my husband’s birthday.  I tried to tell myself that it was perfect timing...a great way to honor a great guy.  But the truth is...it was just really damn hard.  To talk about what an amazing guy he was without him here to say to me with a smug look on his face, “See???  I knew you liked me!” was pretty tough.

But it was a small and appreciative group and I really enjoyed meeting the people who were attending.  Especially one woman who had lost her husband around the same time I had lost mine and who has been following the blog for a little while.  It always shocks me that anyone is following it, so to meet someone in person was a little surreal.  And, as most of you may already know, to hug someone who knows what you’ve been through is truly a gift.

This week has been part of that widow lesson that we all learn sooner or later.  That as much as we dread the things that are coming up, the days do pass and the milestones do come.  We can kick and scream and try and push time away as hard as possible, but the sun always sets and a new day dawns.  And before you know it...the days we fight the most have been and gone and we start dreading the next one.

I always hesitate before I post a blog when I’m having a tough time.  On one hand, I think it’s important for people to know that I am human and that I’m not immune to the fact that grief sneaks up on all of us when we least expect it.  On the other, I worry that someone who is 3 months out is reading it and thinking, “OMG.  She’s three years out and she’s a total wreck!  How am I ever going to make it?”

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

When you hear people say, “The second year was the worst!” or “I thought I’d never get through that third year” that means that it was difficult...for them.  We all grieve at our own pace.  We’re all leading different lives.  People who haven’t had time or can’t allow themselves to really grieve for awhile...they’re probably going to have a harder time later on.  People who tried their best to meet this as head-on as possible, may have the worst behind them in the first year. 

Who knows????

So, when I say that I’ve had a hard time this year with my husband’s birthday...that means that it’s been tough...for me.  Please don’t assume that the 4th birthday your spouse will miss will have you diving back under the covers as I did this year.  There’s a good chance that you’ll get through it just fine.

I guess now I’ll leave you so that I can go buy the birthday balloons, pack the kids up, and head up the mountain to visit my husband.  I know that I’ll stand there, looking at his grave and still, four years later, feel utter disbelief that this is the way we’re celebrating his birthday.

But then I’ll look up.  Watch the kids let their balloons go with the complete certainty that those balloons will find their dad.  Drink in the blue sky and listen to the river below us.  I know that this day too will end.  Tomorrow will come.

And I will try my hardest to make it a good day.





Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Going Solo

Just having one of those nights.  One of those single parenting nights.  One of those single, alone nights.

Parent teacher conferences are this week.  I shouldn't be going alone.  OR...I shouldn't be taking all of the kids...someone should be at home with them making dinner (or ordering dinner) while I go and truly concentrate on how my kid is doing in school.  Instead I sit and worry about the other 2 demolishing the room.

At the very least, I should be able to tell someone how his kid is doing...since he'd probably be out of town anyway.

My son, who needs his dad, has been throwing major temper tantrums this last week.  Knock-down, drag-out, punch-the-door tantrums.  He goes through these phases so it's really nothing new...sometimes I think he just gets overwhelmed with what's going on in that little head.  But my husband was the one who used to get down on his knees and calmly tell my son to take 4 deep breaths.  Now my kid is stuck with the parent who has a temper to match his and will just throw him in his room at the first sign of a blow-up.

I've been wishing all week that my husband could be here.  For many reasons.  To parent.  To comfort.  To support.  And to just celebrate his 38th birthday on Friday.

But he's not.

And where do I find myself these days?

Quietly crying as I fix dinner.

Feeling alone and like life will just never be the same.

Taking 4 deep breaths and waiting for things to calm down.

Monday, November 15, 2010

WHY???

Going through a loss like this has us all asking the same question:

Why?

To be honest...I try not to ask it too often.  But it’s really not something you can help.  And when I really think about it...I’m not sure I really want to know the answer. 

If I really asked the question, “Why was my husband taken away from his children when they were just babies?” and got an answer...it would still be incomprehensible to me.

If I asked the question, “Why did my husband have to leave me to deal with this all on my own?” and got an answer...I would still be angry.

If I asked the question, “Why did this happen?” and got an answer...I don’t think I’d be any further along than I am now.

So I really just try not to ask.

The truth is...death makes no sense.  How many of us have spent years with someone who was the picture of health...only to be shocked by how random death can be?  How many of us survived the dangerous teenage years with someone who drove too fast and constantly tested fate...only to lose them on their commute to work?  How many of us did everything the doctors told us to do...only to find out that our loved one only had weeks left?

And Keith Richards is still alive?  Again...makes no sense.

Going through something like this makes most of us doubt what we thought were “sure things” our entire lives.  That if we worked hard, loved each other, and were just generally good people...we would be rewarded by a long, happy, boring life together.

We all have our ways of rationalizing what has happened.  Some turn to God and get comfort in the belief that He has a master plan and that plan will lead us to a point where we’ll all meet again.  Some turn away from God, angry that a spirit so in control of what happens here and who they have put all of their trust and hope into...should suddenly turn on them in this way.  And some have never given religion a second thought and believe that it plays no part in how or why this happened.

I’m betting at this point...most of you are trying to figure out which way I’m leaning.  But I don’t write to persuade anyone to go the same direction I’m going.  In reality...I understand all points of view...the comfort that comes with believing, the anger that comes with disappointment, and the lack of believing in anything at all.

No matter what your beliefs, the question of “why” will have you running in circles for the rest of your life, if you don’t get a handle on it.  On our darkest days, of course we’re going to ask that question into the thin air that won’t answer back.  Just don’t let the question of “why” paralyze you.  You may know the answer some day.  You may not.  Until then, you have to do your best to live the life you have now.  Be good to people.  Do a few things your old self wouldn’t do.  Go out and have fun every once in awhile.

I mean...why not?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Weather Is Gray. And So Am I.

I’m not exactly sad enough to be blue. I’m not depressed enough to be black. I’m falling somewhere in between the two.

Next week is my husband’s birthday. I know I’ve mentioned this before...but his birthday is really my hardest day (I think...it’s really hard to narrow that down, isn’t it?).

What’s interesting is that I don’t think most people know that. The holidays are obvious grief triggers, so people are watching me closely then. I’m fortunate to have friends who will always remember the anniversary of his death and really take care of me then. But his birthday is something that most people don’t remember...and it’s hard for me to explain to others why it’s Milestone Mountain for me.

I’ve started to think of his birthday as the start of “the next year.” Instead of thinking of his anniversary as a huge milestone, I sit around and think, “This is the 4th birthday he’s missed.”

My husband is the same age as my sister and her husband, as well as a lot of my friends, so that always makes it interesting. I look at them and wonder what he would be doing now. Would he be advancing his career like some of them are? Would he be taking my son to golf lessons? What kinds of changes would we have gone through together?

I’ve learned enough about myself, in the last few years, to know that the week before the actual day is the worst for me. I get tired. I feel drained all of the time. I snap at my children because the slightest request suddenly seems overwhelming to me. I cry for no reason (usually in the car). And since most people don’t realize how hard his birthday is...they have no idea what the hell is wrong with me.

What compounds the problem is...I don’t like to tell them. At least, not when I’m actually going through it. It’s hard to believe that someone who started a support page can get pretty bad about talking about her grief with others...but that’s the truth. I retreat back into what I think of as “my cave.”

Most of the time, I write about how I hope that people start to have a better and more positive attitude about life because I want them to know that a happy life is very possible, even in our situation. And don’t get me wrong...I like my life. I can do my life. I’m starting to get to a pretty good place.

But this is one of those times when I truly understand that we sometimes just need to wallow. So, just so you know...when you tell me that you’re just feeling sad...I get it.

I don’t need anyone to fix this. I don’t need anyone to take me out for a spa day (but if you offer...I won’t argue). I don’t need anyone to try and make me feel better.

I need to feel what I’m going to feel for a few days.

I know I’m making it sound simple. It’s really not. It’s not easy for me or the people who care about me. I don’t like to talk about what’s going on. I would rather turn inward. And for someone who lives her life so...outward...when I get like this, it’s very confusing to those around me.

The feelings I have are indescribable...I could never do them justice with words. If I tried, it would never make sense to someone who isn’t...me. There is a cloud in my soul and I just have to be patient with myself until it dissipates.

Usually, on the actual day of my husband’s birthday...I’m fine. I can talk about what a great guy he was. My feelings will have come to the surface once again...and I can actually explain what’s going on.

Until then...be patient. I’ll be a different color in a few days.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'm Afraid Of Death. Great. NOW What Do I Do???

The whole concept of death scares the crap out of me. That should be no surprise, given what I’ve been through.

What’s weird is that right after my husband died...I didn’t feel that way.

For at least a good year after he was gone...I really felt like life was just a big crap-shoot. I mean...my husband was in an accident on his way to work. So I spent a good part of my time thinking, “Well. My mailbox is across the street. I could bite the dust just checking my mail.”

I wouldn’t say that I didn’t care about life. I just really understood the concept that it didn’t matter how “in control” I’d like to be...life could throw me a curveball at any time.

And death is like a speedy curveball with a twist.

When I was well into year 2, my sister and I were on the phone talking about all of the people we knew who were sick or who were dealing with the impending death of a loved one and I started to wonder...when did we become 90 years old?

My sister said, “Ugh. Do we just know people with the worst luck or something? What is going on?”

I thought about it for awhile and I realized...that really wasn’t the case. It was just that as we got older...our social circles were widening and, as I had already figured out...life could strike without any warning.

As good friends and somewhat good family members, my sister and I don’t shy away from what needs to be done. And that has made us the “go to” people for the people we know.

This is because my mother trained us so well. If someone is sick...we’re there. If someone is having surgery...you check and see if their spouse or relative has someone to sit with them in the waiting room. If they don’t...you better find a sitter and get your ass down there to keep them company. If things are going on in our own immediate family...we divide and conquer. One person makes sure that the paperwork is done and the people are okay at the hospital...the other makes sure that there is food and clean sheets waiting for them when they get home.

I’m still waiting for an award in our honor: “The Family That Gets Shit Done.”

It’ll look prettier with a swirly font.

I have the perfect example of this. A few weeks ago, my mom and I were just catching up on every day stuff when she said, “Did I tell you what happened last Friday?”

I said “no,” wondering what she was getting ready to throw at me.

Her neighbor’s cousin, who lives way up in the mountains, had given birth to a premature baby and her neighbor (the cousin’s closest relative in CO) was out of town. Now, this girl’s husband couldn’t be with her because he couldn’t leave their ranch (their only income) and she was living in the Ronald McDonald house here in Denver so that she could take care of the baby until they could, hopefully, take her home.

Never one to just let people sit alone in a hospital, my mother happened to call this girl, who she didn’t know, and ask her, “Would you like me to come down and sit with you?”

She told me the weak 23 year old voice on the other end of the phone said, “Yes. Please. If you could.”

My mother left her house and by the time she got down to the hospital...the baby had passed away. She sat there, with this girl she didn’t really know, who was holding this precious baby...until the hospital staff thought to ask, “Now...who are you?”

While my mom told me that story that day, and we both cried together, she said, “I’m just glad I remembered to call.”

And all I could think was, “I come from damn good people.”

We all know by now...that with life...comes death. With happiness comes sadness. Without one...you can’t know the other. But there are times when I just want to hole up in my house...stay away from everyone. The further I can stay away from people...the further I can stay away from tragedy.

Right?

There’s one thing that is really wrong with that theory. The further I stay away from people...the further I stay away from...life. If I stay away from sadness...there’s no way I’ll ever really know happiness. If I don’t take any chances...because, after all...that’s what life is...

...I won’t live.

I’ve been dealt a shitty hand. No...don’t argue with me (as if you would)...I really have. I’ve learned a lesson I shouldn’t have until I was 100 with dementia so bad that my husband could have easily been replaced with the orderly that gives an exceptional sponge bath. I’ve figured out, first-hand, what it’s like to be without. And I’m not talking about money or tangible things.

I’m talking about something I just can’t replace.

But I can’t turn back now. I’m in it. The powers that be must have asked Life and me, “til death do you part?” and in my apparent drunken Vegas before-life...I must have agreed.

I worry about the realities of life. “What if” used to just be something I thought of like, “What if I won the lottery? What would I do??” But after what I’ve been through the “what if” turns into, “What if I meet someone, a friend or a future significant other...and the same thing happens all over again???”

But.

What if I am the person who reaches out to someone when no one else will?

What if there’s happiness waiting for me but I won’t know until I look for it?

What if there are a few more years of a good life left in this old girl?

What if?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Holidays Come Early for Widows: Shopping for the Perfect Nervous Breakdown

I had a pretty good day today. Which is shocking because I was starting in on my Christmas shopping.

I think what made it okay was that first of all, I got to spend the day with my mom (and Dad...if you’re reading this, shoot me an email. I’ve got some ideas for you. And don’t call me on December 23rd ‘cause I’m not going to the mall for you then).

The other thing though...the true miracle...was that I was doing it at all.

For the past 3 Christmases (this will be my 4th without my husband), I think I have been in such denial that Christmas was going to actually happen that I left my shopping until the very last minute. This little practice made me feel so overwhelmed and exhausted by the time the actual day rolled around...it just compounded my anti-Christmas mood.

Now, before my husband died, I was always the girl who got her shopping done by September. I would keep my eye out all year round for things that I thought my friends and family would like. When people would say on December 15th, “Man...I really need to get started on my shopping” I would answer, “Really? I’m already wrapped and ready to go!”

Yes, I know. It annoyed the rest of my friends too.

But I’m kind of thinking that this year...the fog has lifted a little bit. No...I wasn’t done by Labor Day, but the fact that I’m doing it now is pretty miraculous. Two years ago, I would have never seen myself get to this point. In fact, last year I was still picking stuff up at Walgreens on Christmas morning.

Don’t judge me. You can get a George Foreman and a smokin’ deal on t-shirts.

I think to most of the outside world, it’s pretty obvious some of the things that we struggle with during the holidays after the loss of a spouse. We’re lonely. We miss the family time. There isn’t anyone here to take the guts out of the turkey (I know I mentioned that in my last blog, but I really hate doing it. It may be a reoccurring theme until the first of the year).

What most people don’t understand is how early the difficulties of the holidays start. When we walk into Macy’s in August and they’re hanging snowflakes and lights...I’m sure anyone paying attention can see us turn ghostly pale and suddenly seem rooted to a spot in the accessories department.

(I just came in for socks dammit! Now I’m walking away with a nervous breakdown!)

Gift giving changes a lot when your spouse is gone. And I mean...a lot. When my husband was here, I still did most of the shopping. But I knew that if I needed “Santa Claus” to assemble something, he would be right there with me at 3 AM, ignoring the directions and looking for that one missing screw that seemed to hold the whole damn thing together.

Now, not only do I have to find things that are already put together, I have no one to bounce ideas off of. And since I don’t think that my son really wants anything from Justice or the American Girl store...this puts me in a pickle.

My dad is stuck with getting a shirt and a book every year now, but he’s a really good sport about it and shakes each one like he’s not sure what he’s going to get. “Does it sound like a red shirt, or a green shirt? Does this feel like a spy novel or a biography??”

I’m sure he misses shaking something that actually sounds like it has pieces and hardware.

And what to buy the in-laws??? I mean...sure...realistically he was no help in that department. But at least when I got frustrated with it, I could turn to him with a deadly glare and say, “I don’t care if you think your mom will never wear that sweater. What’s your solution? A welding helmet?”

Gawd...I miss that.

And don’t even get me started on the “couples” gifts. My husband may have blown it on most birthdays and anniversaries. He hated Valentine’s Day and didn’t put anything in my Easter basket. But he made up for it at Christmas. Since he’s been gone...well...these past few years have been when I’ve really digested the fact that I’m an adult. Because around the holidays...he always made me feel like a kid.

The funny thing is...I always felt like I was the opposite. I was a champ at birthdays and nothing makes a man feel guiltier than when you get him something nice on Valentine’s Day and he hands you a packet of seeds instead of flowers (and yes...he did do that one year), so I always capitalized on it. But he always seemed to outshine me at Christmas.

It’s hard shopping for everyone else and everywhere you turn you see something for him. All of those years I felt the pressure of his Christmas present...who would have thought I would miss that?? But I do. Last week, as I was walking through Sear’s with the kids, I passed through the tool section and nearly had a panic attack.

What’s weird is that years ago, I probably walked through the same section and felt something similar. (All those tools...spinning around me....no air...oh the pressure...where the hell are the gift cards???)

The truth is...nothing makes us feel more like our spouse is missing than the present we didn’t buy. To me...that’s harder than the present I’m not getting. And this has been the first year I’ve been able to even start on this process without constantly asking myself, “What would he have wanted? If he were here, what would he be giving everyone else?”

I’m not going to lie to you...it’s still hard. And I expect it always will be. But since the holidays only roll around once a year, I guess it takes a lot of extra time for us to digest our new “special occasion” normal. At least at this point I’ve gotten to expect a little extra heart pounding at Home Depot. I know my hands will get sweaty when I pass by the auto parts store all decorated in tinsel and tools. And now I circle the jewelry ads with a pencil instead of a big, fat, red Sharpie.

What can I say? I’m still a work in progress.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm Fallin'. How About You?

The mood has changed.

Not just my mood (although that can change every second thanks to fluctuating hormone levels and no husband to yell at when I’m cranky for no reason). It seems like everyone’s mood has changed.

You know...we’re pretty funny. We can’t just give ourselves a time to adjust to the fact that the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler. We can’t just sit back and relax and accept it for what it is.

Nope. Because thanks to Target and Hobby Lobby breaking out the Autumn decorations in June and Christmas stuff in July, we now feel like we’re way behind on holidays we’d really just rather fast-forward through.

I mean...c’mon...our spouses are dead. Can’t we just get a bye? (Yes Dad...I watch ESPN every once in awhile. During the commercial breaks on E!.)

I think we, as widows and widowers, really feel the pressure of the holidays. There are many reasons for this, most of which are obvious and that I will blog about later. But right now, I’d like to focus on one thing: Our tasks are doubled.

For the non-shopper who lost his shopper...he now feels the pressure of the holidays looming before him and panic sets in early (which you should really stop worrying about. Don’t you know that Walgreens is open on Christmas day??? Found that out last year). For the person who lost the more responsible one of the couple who would always remember to “fall back” and change the clocks when it was time...it’s on Sunday the 7th, so don’t forget (you’re welcome). And for the cook who could tackle all of the side dishes but never had to personally take the guts out of the turkey...well...I have no advice for you. You’re just going to have to suck it up.

Bottom line...you’re dealing with tasks for two. And it really blows.

Before my husband died, Fall was my favorite time of the year. The leaves would be beautiful. There would be a sudden nip in the air. And it meant that it was time to cover up the grill and start cooking gumbo again.

Now it means that the leaves fall (and I have to rake them up). It’s damn cold (and I have to pay the heating bill). And it’s time to start cooking gumbo again. For 3 children who would rather I just grill up some hot dogs.

The first year he was gone, I came up with a brilliant plan of combining my need for leaf-raking and my friends’ need for gumbo into one “fun” little party. How about...a LEAF RAKING PARTY!!! That’s right! I’ll cook, you guys come over, rake my leaves, and then all of the kids can jump in them and play and have a great time!

My friends learned a hard lesson that year. That just because the word “party” is at the end of a phrase, doesn’t make it fun. And a bowl of gumbo doesn’t quite make up for the 18 bags of leaves they stuffed and hauled to the curb while all of our children watched with interest from the porch.

Fast forward to me the next year, out in the yard, alone, trying to get leaves stuffed in bags in hurricane-like winds. While my kids watched with interest from the cozy innards of the house.

I know I should be out of the “angry” phase of my grief by now, but every year, as I stack 1800 pounds of firewood, I curse my husband with every splinter, every blister, every smashed thumb (well, technically I only have 2 but you know what I mean).

The first year he was gone, I was still in my “I can do this!” phase and nothing was going to stop me (especially since my friends wouldn’t call me back when I invited them to a Firewood Stacking Party). I eyed that mountain of wood, strapped on my MP3 player, and got to work, loading it onto a cart (because my gate is too small to fit a wheelbarrow through, of course) and stacking it neatly on the side of the house.

I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I was done. That is...until I had my parents over for dinner that night and bragged to my dad that I had stacked all 1800 pounds by myself.

He went outside, took a look at my stack and said, “Huh. Looks like only 1400 pounds to me.”

Smart ass.

Now, a little less optimistic and a helluva lot lazier, I look at that mound and wonder if the 10 year old kid down the street would like to make some extra cash. I proved I could do it that first year. I’m over it.

I miss that “can do” attitude. Never mind that I was delusional...it was really helpful back then. It was what made me think I could tackle the snowblower for the first time. It didn’t occur to me, my first go around, that I had actually blown the snow twice because I had no idea how to aim that damn blower-thingy. The point was...I did it on my own.

Now, I just count on my southwest exposure to help me out. And if we have enough snow and I can’t get out for a few days...I really didn’t need to go anywhere that badly anyway.

I know you’re wondering what my point is to these stories. I don’t have one. At this point I’d be surprised if you’re still reading this.

I mean...shouldn’t you be out shopping?