Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Please...Not Again.

This blog is going to be a ramble because I’m just not thinking straight.  But as most of you have figured out by now...this is my best way to just purge how I’m feeling.  So forgive my grammar, my random thoughts, and...if this was real paper...my tear stains.

I was sitting in the carpool lane this afternoon, waiting for my son to get out of school, mindlessly going through my Facebook Newsfeed, just trying to kill time.  I read through the usual junk, got my fill of The Onion, and caught up with friends without really catching up with them.

Then I came upon a status that, frankly, I just couldn’t believe.

“Rest in peace.”  And then the name of someone I knew.

I immediately started shaking and my stomach took a trip to my throat.  I called my mom who is out of town and asked her to call her best friend to confirm it.

And yes.  It was true.

He died in a car accident on Sunday night.  A car accident I called a friend of mine to warn about because the highway was shut down.  He was in his car with his 3 kids when an 89 year old woman went the wrong way on the highway and hit them head on.

The kids made it.  He did not.

This guy and I went to the same high school and I will admit...I did not know him well.  But, because it’s a small world after all, he married someone who is a friend of my family. 

And now...she is me.

Oh how my heart hurts.

I don’t understand this.  I just wrote about one friend losing her husband.  Why in the hell am I sitting here writing about another one????  And while you all know that I am more than willing to be there for anyone who needs me...I don’t want to be needed anymore.  I want the bad luck to be gone and for every child to have both parents, every person to have a partner, and every life to be whole.

The other night I went out to give my friend who lost her husband a couple of weeks ago a night out.  And I did the most embarrassing thing.  After she told me everything that had happened and all about the funeral...I started babbling.

I don’t know why I did it.  Well...actually I do.  It was because I wanted to impart 3 ½ years of widow wisdom on her...so that it might spare her the pain of learning it for herself. 

I later sent her a text apologizing (I’m sure I was just exhausting to be around) and told her that I just wanted to do anything I could to make a fraction of this go away.  I know that she understood, but I still wish I could take that night back and be a more restful presence.

I don’t know if it’s the two deaths in rapid succession...but I don’t feel good.  I told my mom that I would go to the funeral, which is on Thursday while my parents are still out of town, and I know she is worried about how I will handle it.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.  I don’t know if this is hitting me funny because it was so sudden...or because it’s so much like what I went through.  But right now...I feel like I’ve been sucker punched.

And I think there should be a rule about posting news like that on Facebook.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hope: It's Closer Than You Think

“Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it."

Okay, I’ve decided to just get over myself and this whole Social Security debacle so that I can move on with my life.  Sleepless Nights...you may be excused now.  You keep stealing my covers.

Part of the reason for this is because I recently received an email from a widow who had just found my blog and was asking questions about how to connect with other widows (and you know what my response was...theWiddahood!).  Suddenly I realized how I had been on a trip to Bittertown all week and thought, “OMG.  That’s really not how I want to present myself and the rest of the widow community.  We’re not all angry, annoyed people who are out to up-end the entire widow-related Social Security system.”

Well, some of us are.  But still.  I’ve decided to be the bigger person.  Until I hear from them again and go into another blog tantrum.

It’s weird how something so random can make us lose faith in the world.  Up until that moment, I thought I was actually doing pretty well.  Usually February is my “Random Meltdown Month” but this year I have been feeling better than I have in awhile.  I started my slow decent into the abyss around the 9th, but somehow managed to bounce back before my therapist recommended I get put on medication.

Hey...I’ll take what I can get.

For some reason this afternoon, I started to think about how much the world has changed and how that makes it even harder for those of us who are just trying to get through the day.  I know I always joke about how I primarily get my news from “The View” but there’s a really good reason for that:  They’ll touch on some of the major issues and then buffer the bad news by complaining how you could see Lindsay Lohan’s boobs through her dress when she went to court.

Some may consider that news, some may not.  But throw it in between the crises in Egypt and the national deficit and it makes you feel a little bit better.

Every once in awhile I’ll start watching the local and national news and I can feel myself emotionally sinking.  For the people who are addicted to watching CNN...I applaud you for your courage.  If I watched that all of the time...I don’t think I would be able to get out of bed in the morning.  And then I would have to explain to my kids that I could no longer go on with a productive life because the Southeast corner of the country is on its way to extinction due to obesity and the price of toilet paper is going up.

What happened to being able to sit on your front porch and talk to you neighbors (if you like them)?  What happened to being able to accept help with a flat tire without wondering if the stranger was going to smack you over the head with the jack and throw you in the trunk?  What happened to just being able to take a walk alone in the evening without looking over your shoulder?

Well.  I’ll tell you.  That world has been replaced by one that would rather run you off the highway, rather than let you get in front of them.

I see so many comments on www.theWiddahood.com and on Facebook about how sad people are about the stories they read from other widows.  And I completely get that.  It makes me sad too.

But I will tell you...these widow communities are where I go to find hope.  Because all I have to see is one person make a comment about what a terrible day they’re having...and then all of the comments from strangers telling them to hang in there.  The second I put up that I’m having a problem...I’ll get 30 responses from people I’ve never met telling me that it’s going to be okay.  When I launched the website...I got so many emails from people, asking how they could help and never asking what they would get in return.

Make no mistake about it.  We are the hope.  We are the neighbors talking to each other.  We are the ones helping a stranger.  We are the people who will lift up a world of people we don’t even know.

So the next time I’m getting on the highway and someone lets me in, I’ll probably be thinking, “Huh.  I wonder if they’re a widow.”

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Soul Searching. Or As I Like To Put It: Searching For A Government Soul

Everyone has been so supportive and helpful with this whole stupid thing that I’m going through with the Social Security Administration and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.  We always say it and it’s so completely true:  No one understands a widow like another widow.

I know this support comes from a personal place within all of you.  You’re either upset because you’ve already been screwed over by this system, or you’re worried you will be.  And with good reason.  It can apparently happen at any time and when we’re least expecting it.

Last night I excused myself from the Valentine’s Day chat on theWiddahood.com because I felt like I had been holding back tears all day, trying to keep it together so that my kids’ day wouldn’t be completely ruined.  Every once in awhile those tears would spill out and I would get an encouraging pat on the shoulder from my very sensitive 9-year-old daughter who didn’t really know what was going on...she just knew I was having a bad day.

The perfect display of love on Valentine’s Day.

This morning, groggy from the sleeping pill I took last night in an effort to make today look better, I really started thinking about why this is bothering me so much.  I realized that I’m taking this whole thing really personally and it’s not.  In my overthinking mind, I feel like some random stranger is questioning my abilities as a mother when in reality...I’m just part of a system.  I’m a number.

What’s been interesting about this whole thing has been the responses I’ve seen from other widows.  And I can sum it up in one word. 


Really?  Of our own government?  Of a benefit program that is supposed to provide us with “security” and that we are forced to pay into...but they’re not forced to pay out of?

Huh.  Isn’t that a little like mandatory gambling?

As most of you will understand, what bothers me the most is that this is yet another glaring reminder that my life is not at all what it used to be.  Four years ago, no random person would have ever questioned the money that my husband and I spent on our kids.  

But now that I’m collecting Social Security on their behalf...it seems that the government has the right to question how it’s being spent.

To what extent?

Am I allowed to feed their friends when they come over?  Is a government agent going to tell me that my grocery bill is too high and that we need to start eating leftovers more often?  Should I start sending in my kids’ growth chart, holy jeans, and shoes with no toes from scraping them on the ground while they ride their bikes in order to justify how much I’ve spent on clothes? Will I have to tell the kids that they can no longer ride the bus (something we have to pay out of pocket for now because of budget cuts) because the government (who cut the budget) might not see that as a necessary expense?

What about if I decided to go on antidepressants?  That’s looked at as my own expense...but if I became so depressed I couldn’t take care of my children...shouldn’t that fall under their benefits since I’m their primary caretaker?

A lot of us have said that when it comes to the SSA...how helpful they are and how your benefits seem to work a lot of times depends on who you get on the phone.  Why is that?  This should just be a system...not something that is subject to opinion.  If I’m required to be saving a certain amount (so that it doesn’t “raise any red flags,” to quote my SSA friend from yesterday)...shouldn’t that be in my paperwork somewhere? 

Who is this person going over my paperwork?  Do they have kids?  Am I allowed to question how that person (because they get paid by the government and my tax dollars), personally spends the check they receive every month?

One of the things that I didn’t put in that letter that should definitely be added (and I don’t know how I missed it...it’s something I have thought is completely unfair for years) is the salary cap if you are receiving Social Security benefits.  So if your husband put a portion of every single paycheck he’s earned since he was 16-years-old and he dies, leaving you with 1 or 2 kids (thereby splitting the allotment between you and the kids) and you accept those benefits...you are only allowed to earn around $14,000 a year or your benefits go away?

I wonder if they realize that they are somewhat forcing a lot of people with young children into a kind of “volunteer poverty program” because they’re scared of losing their benefits.

There is no possible way I could be living “high off the hog” with the Social Security benefits that I’m receiving.  It’s not like I could afford to take the kids on a trip around the world with that money. 

And if I did...who are you, the US Government...to tell me that I can’t? 

I know that people say this all the time about doctors...that they should have to spend some time as a patient in the hospital at the beginning of their careers...scared, alone, and worried about what’s going to happen next.

I think the same is true of these government agencies.  Spend a little time in our shoes.  Devastated by loss.  Wondering how we’re going to make ends meet.  Trying to put one foot in front of the other and carve out a normal life for our kids.

And then have to justify, to a stranger who calls you out-of-the-blue, how you could possibly be living your life the way you are.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dear Social Security....

I am writing you this letter in response to the call I received on February 14, 2011 at 10 AM from a gentleman with the Social Security Administration, asking me to suddenly justify every expense I have had on behalf of my children in 2010.

On a personal note:  I apologize that I did not happen to be sitting in front of my bank statement, my credit card statement, my investment portfolio, and my receipts for 2010 when I received this unexpected call.  The representative seemed to imply that, because of my hesitant responses to his invasive questions, I had somehow squandered or misused the funds.  I don’t know if I could have answered those unanticipated questions on a good day and, frankly, if your office feels it’s appropriate to call widow(er)s with children on Valentine’s Day and ask them to suddenly list their expenses for an entire year...I’m afraid you are probably not going to get the response you are looking for. 

I will justify my expenses to you for the year with the money that my deceased husband had taken out of his hard-earned paycheck his entire adult life (although I am still unclear as to how that is relevant to you...this is the Social Security that we have paid for).   I am running a house.  I am paying for maintenance on a 7-year-old car that has 120,000 miles on it from running my kids to all of their activities.  I am now solely responsible for a home and maintenance to that home, as well as increased electric, gas, and water bills. 

I am paying for healthcare and taxes that have been raised even though my benefits have not. 

I encourage you, who are so concerned with how I spend my children’s Social Security benefits, to really get an understanding of where my money goes.  Come with me to their counseling appointments.  Take a drive with us when we spend the gas money to go to their father’s grave.  Watch me hand over the babysitting money I now have to pay because I am a single mother.

I help support a community of almost 1000 widows who are baffled daily by how Social Security benefits affect them.  For those people who chose not to or were unable to have children (or for those who fall into some arbitrary age window)...they are handed a one-time check for $250 and are left confused about where all of the money that their spouses put into the system went.  For those of us who have children and who are trying to keep their lives “business as usual”...it’s hard to explain why you can’t write a check (because you may not be able to justify it to a stranger behind a desk) for a school fundraiser that’s trying to raise money to buy paper because the budget has been cut.

All I ask is that, when you call a widow, demanding answers to complicated questions, remember that you are usually speaking to someone who has been devastated by a loss that has left their life completely broken and they are doing the best they can to pick up the pieces.  Half (or all) of their household income is gone but most of the time the same expenses are there.  And for those of us with children...we are doing the best we can with little lives that will never be the same with the limited benefits we are receiving.

I realize that it is probably not up to you, the person reading this letter, to fix this system.  Just remember...there is a good chance you will be on the other end of this phone call some day. 

Thank you.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Love the One(s) You're With

Well, here it is.  The dreaded V-Day.

I know there are a lot of people who are having a hard day today.  And as much as I would love to be able to fix that in Widow World...my magic wand is in the shop.  I’m hoping to have it back by Spring.

As I watched 2 of my kids get ready for school today, so excited about their Valentine’s Day parties, it really got me thinking about how this day changes for us throughout our lives.

They left with bags full of $2.00-a-box Valentine’s with Littlest Pet shop and Spiderman on them, lollipops and chocolates taped to the back.  Great care had been taken with their Valentine’s boxes and I’m preparing myself for the little Sugar-Highs I will be picking up this afternoon.

By the time they’re teenagers they’ll be wishing less for a box full of Valentine’s and more for one from someone really special.  Maybe by the time they will be able to drive, my daughter will be going out on a date with someone who shows up with a pink carnation and my son will be taking that special girl to a romantic dinner at Chili’s.

Eventually, with any luck, they will be as lucky as I was and meet someone who will complain about Valentine’s Day, but who will pick up flowers on his/her way home from work anyway because they don’t want the phrase “long dry spell” to apply to them.

And, if there’s any justice in the world, they will never know what it’s like from that moment on...to spend a Valentine’s Day alone.

The first Valentine’s Day I spent without my husband felt painful because he wasn’t here and it was just a huge reminder that I was alone.  At first, I didn’t even remember it that was Valentine’s Day until I went to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and saw all of these men exiting with bouquets of flowers.

Which caused me to give up on the milk and head for the wine.

The following years, Valentine’s Day didn’t seem quite as painful and this year I can honestly say...I’m doing okay.  And that’s because I’m changing how Valentine’s Day is defined in our house.

It’s not about being a “couple” for me anymore.  It’s just about telling someone you love them.

I’m learning this lesson from my children who, at this age, are not concerned with romance and couldn’t wait to wake their mom up with home-made cards with hearts and a big hug.  I thought about how I spent this last weekend, Saturday night with one of my best friends, in sweats and no make-up, eating gumbo and a box of mixed chocolates that I’d bought for her because she was the closest thing I would have to a Valentine’s date this year.

And I had a great time.

So...how am I spending Valentine’s Day this year?  Well, right now I’m laying in my bed, with the cutest 5-year-old girl I know, watching “Ramona & Beezus.”  We’ve just painted our toenails red and we’re not quite sure if we’re even going to get dressed today.

I didn’t have to shave my legs.

I’m not going to have to wait an hour for a table for dinner (because I’ll probably be at McDonald’s).

My biggest pressure today? 

Making sure the people in my life know they are loved.  And reminding myself that I’m loved in return.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Have A Big Favor To Ask....

I realize that many of you have never met me, but I'm going to ask you a favor anyway.

Please do not EVER buy this water bottle for your child.  The only thing I can think of that would have been more disturbing than coming across it in the luggage section at Target...would have been seeing a child actually drinking from it.

Thank Gawd it wasn't Spiderman, right?

Thank you, 

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011


“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.”


My friend’s husband died last night after a long battle with cancer.  But as we all know...it doesn’t matter how long you’ve “known”...it’s always a shock when that moment comes.

We were always meant to be friends and I think we were always meant to have a place in each others lives.  Our friendship is unusual because in the two years we’ve known each other...I’ve never once met her husband. 

He has been sick the entire time I’ve known her, but since I had never met him, that made me 100% her friend.  Someone who knew her and her struggles and could be there completely for her...without feeling disloyal to her husband.

He knew about our friendship and at times I got the feeling that he wasn’t crazy about it.  My presence in her life probably reminded him that terrible things were possible.  And that there was a chance I might be here to help her when he couldn’t be.

We met 2 years ago at a church fundraiser.  I had been looking for a photographer to take pictures of my kids and she had a booth in the Narthex.  My sister told me later that it was strange how I went straight to her booth without looking anywhere else.  But when I saw the pictures and the magic she could create...I had no doubt that she was the person who was meant capture my children at that playful age.

As we were setting up our appointment and emailing back and forth, she asked me if the session was going to be all about the kids or if there would be some family pictures taken.  I emailed her back and told her that I mainly wanted the pictures to be taken of the kids, but that I’d like a few taken of me with them.  I told her that these would be the first pictures we would have taken as a family since I lost my husband.

The response I received from her later that evening gave me chills and somehow cemented our friendship right away.  She told me that her husband was battling cancer, but that they knew it was terminal.  And that she had two small children.

We made our session appointment and I enjoyed watching her work and interact with my kids...she really worked magic and had all kinds of tricks up her sleeve.  But I think we were both anxious to get that initial meeting out of the way so that we could make plans to get margaritas and really get to what would be the meat of our relationship.

During our first dinner, she asked me a million questions about benefits and raising children alone and after every question, she apologized and told me that she felt terrible for asking me these questions before her husband was even gone.

I finally said, “You have to quit apologizing.  We’re women and we’re mothers.  You think that if I had known my husband was going to die, I wouldn’t have asked someone questions who had already been through it so that I could be as prepared as possible?”

During the last couple of years, we’ve talked, texted, and gotten together when we can.  A 4-year-old and a 2-year-old along with a business and a terminally ill husband kept her beyond busy and single parenting and my own projects kept me on my toes.  In the last few months, knowing that the end was probably near, I would leave her messages, reminding her that I was here if she ever needed me. 

More often than not, her response would be, “I’m going to need you.  I’m going to need you after.”

And so here we are.  After.

As I deal with loss after my husband’s death, I find myself less sad about the person who is gone and more affected when I think about the people who are left behind.  I don’t necessarily always mourn the loss, I mourn the loss of the life that they thought they would have and the memories that will never be.

While I read her blog, something that I’m jealous that she had the presence of mind to keep up so well while she dealt the many things she had going on, I am instantly reminded of my own moments, telling my children and making arrangements.  Knowing what a blur it will be in the upcoming days, weeks, and months...I cry with the knowledge that there will be some things I will be able to ease.  And some things she will have to go through alone.

The first day we met at that photo session, I asked her to do me a favor.  As a tribute to my husband, I asked her to take pictures of my kids releasing balloons.  I wanted to remember them at that age and have something to remind me that such a simple act provided the four of us some peace for a moment.

She teared up for a minute and then aimed her camera at my children.  She took those pictures knowing that some day, it would be her standing there with a little fist in one hand and some curly ribbon in the other.

Waiting for the right moment to release.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Dad died?? But Mom! That's so unfair!"

“I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.”

                     ---Herb Caen

I had a moment last night that just made me so damn sad. 

What started out as an innocent conversation with my children about the upcoming Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser turned into a very painful flashback.

My son (who is in first grade) asked me if I would give him $25 and sponsor him for the fundraiser.  I didn’t hesitate and said, “Of course!”

Then suddenly my oldest daughter (who is in 4th grade) asked me, “Why didn’t you sponsor me in first grade?  I wanted to bring in money and you never gave it to me.”

I was overcome with guilt.  Why didn’t I give her the money?

And then I realized.  When she was in first grade, my husband had just died.

There is no way to explain to anyone the pain and blurriness of loss until they’ve been through it.  That entire year is such a fog to me...the only moment I distinctly remember is when my parents came over, in the snow, to pick the kids up because I was so exhausted and shaking so bad I just about couldn’t function.

It’s impossible to explain to my 9-year-old daughter now what that year was like for me and how something as important to her as a fundraiser was not even on my radar.  At that point, I was doing what I could to remember to feed them and make sure they got to school.

I know that that’s a conversation we might have when she’s older and more able to understand.  That year, in that moment, I gave myself permission to do whatever I needed to do (as long as it didn’t hurt myself or my children) to get through each day. 

It’s funny how I forgave myself then, but that the “new me” feels terrible that I didn’t write her that check 3 years ago.

The tone of her voice last night was the typical “it’s not fair” tone and at that age...I completely understand why she feels that way.  She feels like it was favoritism when it was really just my inability to deal with life in general.  And because she’s the oldest and has the most memories...that time in our lives will seem the most unfair to her.

It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t fair that her younger sister had to wait longer to get her diaper changed sometimes because I was the only parent to do it.  It wasn’t fair that my oldest daughter had big birthday parties from ages 1-5 and her brother and sister really didn’t have any for a couple of years because I just wasn’t equipped to deal with it.  It wasn’t fair that in an instant, I had to restart my life when my life was really just beginning.

The whole damn thing just wasn’t fair.

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

© Catherine Tidd 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your First February Quote. This One's Gonna Make You Think

So here it is.  February.  The month of quotes.  And I’ve decided to mess us all up by taking the same quote and phrasing it 3 different ways. 

I would love for you to choose which one means something to you.  Think about it.  Write about it if you wish.  And I’ll do the same.

“Sometimes you have to give yourself...what you want from him.”

“Sometimes you have to give yourself.  What you want from Him.”

“Sometimes you have to give.  Yourself.  What you want from him.”

Think about it.  Three different ways.  Each one is so different. 

One speaks of the past.

One speaks of eternity.

One speaks of the future.

I would love to go into what each one means to me.  But I since I try to keep my blogs as short as a widow’s attention span...I’ll only go into one.

First of all...it was sheer luck that I stumbled upon this quote.  It’s from Dr. Phil and I never watch Dr. Phil.  I tuned into my local channel to catch Oprah’s show on the Oscar nominees a little early the other day so that I wouldn’t miss the beginning.  It’s extremely rare that I have any time to watch any TV and I was treating myself.

So there I was...at the tail end of the Dr. Phil show...carting in loads of firewood because, like most of the U.S....I’m freezing my ass off...and I hear him talking to a man trying to forgive his father for (I think) killing his mother (like I said...I only caught the last few minutes).

As I’m stumbling through my living room in slip-on shoes, sweats, and unwashed hair, I hear that statement.

Well, shit.  That was good.

Sometimes I have to give myself...what I want from him.

What did I want from him?

I wanted a good life.  I had the beginnings of one but it wasn’t finished.  So what do I still want?

A good life.  And if he could be here, that’s what he would have given me.  But just because he’s not here doesn’t mean I don’t want it.

I wanted love.  I had love and comfort and I still want that from him.  But he’s not here.  The problem is...I still want it.  And I truly believe he wants me to have it.

I still want love.

I want good parenting.  And part of that “parenting” is gone.  But part of that parenting is here.  And doing the best damn job she can.  And part of her parenting is thinking about how the other parent would feel/do/act if he was here.

I am a good parent.

I want to dream.  That anything is possible.  And if he were here, he’d be giving me that, too.  But he’s not.  But I know that he would want me to shoot for the moon.

My list could go on and on. 

Sometimes I have to give myself what I wish from him.

I will remember that when I wake up tomorrow.