Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How's YOUR Memoir Coming Along?

It seems like you can’t get online anywhere these days without reading that someone is writing their memoir about becoming a widow.  And I’m sure that you have all been on the edges of your seats, wondering what I think about it.  Well.  I’ll tell you.

I think it’s fantastic.

Personally, anyone who is willing to write a true memoir about any aspect of their life has my utmost respect.  I don’t think many people realize how much courage it takes to really, truly tell your story in a way that says “screw it” to other people’s opinions (usually the people you are closest to) and let ‘er fly.  I mean, I write this blog twice a week (usually) and I can’t even do that.

In this day and age of self-publishing and ebooks, where the publishing world has basically been turned on its ear and any person out there could conceivably write and publish a book (thereby leaving it up to the masses and not necessarily some 60-year-old man behind the desk of a publishing company to decide if it’s a worthy read or not), I say write it and throw it out there.  If there’s anything I’ve learned, working on The Widdahood Post, it’s that every writer has a voice and every person has a story.  And no story is more important than another.

I’ve heard and seen people in the widow world virtually roll their eyes at the next person who has decided to write a book or start a widow page/website.  Now, I can understand that annoyance when you are literally getting besieged by “status updates” and if it’s annoying you, it’s all within your power to “unfriend” or “hide” (love the power of the virtual world).  But for someone who struggled back in 2007 to find something, anything that spoke to me or that I could relate to...I think it’s nothing short of miraculous that we have so many choices out there now.

The truth is, the reason I started blogging a little over a year ago was because I had started writing my own memoir.  Well...not really a memoir.  More of a “funny” account of what had happened.  There was nothing to be learned.  There really wasn’t anything very helpful about it.  I wrote it for the very selfish reason that I had always found the humor in the things that have happened in my life...and I needed to find the humor in this.

And two-hundred-pages-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day later...that’s what I did.

It’s really weird how life changes.  I started blogging in May 2010 with my sights set on publishing something.  And a year later, theWiddahood was born, I started writing for other publications, and I’m happy.

Truly happy.

All of these changes in such a short amount of time have really made me think about that memoir.  Where at one point, widowhood seemed so consuming that I could write a book about it, it has suddenly taken a backseat to the whole of my life.  Yes, I am a widow.

But that is not my whole story. 

Widowhood has nothing to do with the fact that I love my legs from the knees down, but my thighs hurt my feelings every day.

It has nothing to do with the funny things my kids say every day.  (Like today, for example:  My 5-year-old looked at the line-up of Milkbones, cotton swabs, and tongue depressors at the vet’s office and said, “I had no idea that dogs ate fluffy things and wooden sticks!!”)

It has nothing to do with the fact that listening to the Blues makes me happy.

My story is still forming.

At 35-years-old, I look back on my life with as little regret as possible, remember moments that make my heart catch, and laugh at what has happened as much as I possibly can.  At 35-years-old, I wonder how I will age, what my adult relationship with my kids will be like, and if I will ever learn to like cauliflower. 

At 35-years-old, I look at my life forming and I can honestly say that widowhood has become an important chapter of my life.

It’s just not the book.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hard to Believe I've Been At This "Widow Thing" For 4 Years....

I started my 4 year anniversary today.  The reason I say “started” is because the 16th was when my husband was in his accident.  And then he died on the 18th.  What I  should say is that he “officially” died on the 18th.  I knew I had already lost who he was 4 years ago today.

Every year, the anniversary time is different.  I hesitate to say easier...some things are, some things aren’t.  The days have gotten easier, for the most part.  But the sneak attack of grief seems to be harder.  Maybe because I’m never expecting it and every year it seems like I’m involved in a “grief stick-up.”  Held at emotional gun point with my back up against a wall with no where to go, my sub-conscious saying, “Give me your tears.  No...not just a few.  I want all of them or I won’t let you get out of bed for 3 weeks!”

It’s weird how I get robbed every year and it always comes as a surprise.

I started my usual grief slide earlier this week.  I don’t know why I do this during this time every year:  Where most people can’t seem to get out of bed, I can’t seem to stay in it.  Not only that, but I get obsessed with giving myself a complete overhaul.  I don’t know if I’m trying to get my outsides to not look anything like my insides or maybe it’s just an impatience with life in general and I’m doing everything I can to change anything that’s within my control.  But Thursday, I went to get my haircut and my hairdresser said, “You really don’t need a haircut.”

To which I replied, “Then give me highlights.  Do something.  Can’t you see I’m going crazy in here??”

Since I was in her chair about a week after my husband died, basically telling her the same thing, you would think we would both be used to this by now.  For the first time, it occurred to me that I might want to get my hairdresser, waxer, nail technician, and therapist on a schedule where they have a yearly conference call to get ready for the big anniversary. 

Can you just imagine how that conversation would go?

“She’s looking a little manic today.  Is that hairstyle or feet?  You know by tomorrow she’s going to be exhausted...Waxer...that’s your day.  Wake her up a little. get the day after the anniversary.  Every thing will be plucked, pulled, cut, or painted by then and she’ll have no place else to go.”

I know I’m sounding a little crazy.  But what did you expect?  By next week...I’ll be starting in on year five.  At this point...crazy has been earned.  I’ve worked hard at it.  I’ve been dedicated to it.  I’m about to get my 4 year degree in Crazy (would that be a B.A. or a B.S.?).

Insanity comes with a life well lived.  Us widows are just better at it than most.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Parenting Can Sometimes Be a Leap of Faith

Ugh.  What a morning.

In the last week, my 7-year-old son has made throwing Barbies on the roof his favorite way to pass the time.  Now, I have to admit that I don’t blame him, for my own personal reasons.  Every time I look at all the Barbies laying around my house I kind of feel like throwing them up on the roof, too.  Not only do I find them a little creepy, laying in bizarre bodily configurations all over the floor like my living room is where Mattel toys find their final resting place...but one look at those perfect legs, tiny waist, and huge rack and I’m about ready to chuck them all up there myself.

You ladies know what I’m talking about.

The first time he did it, I punished him, telling him that he couldn’t play with the little boys on the street for 2 days.  As any parent knows, enforcing sentence like that on a child in the middle of the summer is as much a punishment for us as it is for them.  He was bored, annoyed, and I thought for sure he had learned his lesson.  I ALSO made him pay $10 for the Barbie he got stuck up there, which was also a punishment for me because that meant I had to go out and buy another one to add to my living room graveyard.

But I stuck to it, didn’t back down, and in the end I was pretty proud of myself and my developing parenting skills.


Here we are, this morning, 1 day after his punishment was lifted, and what do I wake up to?

“MOM!  He’s on the roof!”


Instead of throwing the Barbies up on the roof as he did before, my son had lifted his screen and thrown one out of his window.  And then possibly deciding this wasn’t such a good idea (or just not thinking at all)...he lifted the screen, climbed out the window, got on the porch roof, and got it.

Now, it’s not like he can just step out of his window onto the roof...the roof doesn’t meet up there.  He had to kind of climb over to get to the roof.  And then climb over (dead air 2 stories up) to get back.

For any mother, this would be a heart-pounding moment.  For me, I went straight from heart-pounding to sheer panic.

This isn’t entirely random.  I had my gutters cleaned yesterday and when the guy came over to do it, we decided it would be better if he climbed out my bedroom window (the first man to ever do that, I assure you) and clean them out.  I didn’t even see the little wheels turning in my son’s head as he watched the man lift the screen and head right out onto the roof.

I promise you that a longer, stricter punishment is ahead for my son.  I sat with him this morning and showed him pictures of what wearing a “halo” looks like when you break your neck.  I showed him pictures of a spine and vertebrae and then explained to him that once those things are broken...very rarely do they come back and we went into what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. 

I’m hoping, because he has such a literal mind, that seeing those pictures will be something he won’t soon forget.

But do you want to know what I really wanted to do???  I wanted to shake him and say, “A split second decision.  That’s all it takes.  One decision and you’re either gone or your life has completely changed.  And do you want to know how I know that?  Because your dad is dead.  After making a split second decision.”

I didn’t say that, but I wanted to.  And when he gets older, we may have that conversation.  Because we are not a family that can pretend that bad things don’t happen.  Bad things have happened.  It’s affected us all.  And any split second decision could make them happen again. 

Some bad things are beyond our control.  But going out onto a roof for a $10 toy is not one of them.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of raising my kids through grief.  We talk about it.  We acknowledge our loss.  And we live our lives.

But I’ve been wondering today...if I’ve done too good a job.  There is a lesson to be learned in my husband’s death and maybe I haven’t taught it:  That life is precious, we all make mistakes, but do your best to think things through a little bit before you do something that could change it forever.  I’ve been concentrating so hard on making them not afraid to live their lives even though we’ve been through this...maybe I’ve gone too far the other way.  Maybe I should have made them a little afriad.

Part of our issue is that my husband died when the kids were so young and the way we live now is just their normal.  We talk about him and look at pictures...but they were too young to really go through what I and an older child might feel having that kind of loss.  Chances are, it might affect them later.  But as far as understanding the fragility of life and how quickly it can be gone...I don’t think they get it.  Yet.

When I write blogs, I usually try to end with something I’ve learned along the way.  I can’t do that with this one because I think I’m still learning it.  And I honestly want to know...

....what do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great Widda Read: The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted

When it comes to “grief reading,” I tend to lean towards the more funny (but real) stories, rather than self-help books.  They can be fiction or doesn’t really matter to me.  I’m hooked as long as the story is readable and the character or writer is someone I can relate to.  The bottom line is...there are times when I get tired of reading about how I should be handling my grief and would rather read a story that makes me feel less alone in the craziness I now call “life.”

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted was that book for me.  As I was reading it, I thought, “This is just like Good Grief with a little Under the Tuscan Sun mixed in!” This comparison was written in many other reviews, something that I’m sure Bridget Asher (aka, Julianna Baggott...Asher is her pen name) may be a little tired of hearing.  But it’s true.  Just like Good Grief, the widow in the story (Heidi) is funny, quirky, and relatable.  She and her late husband seem like the couple that everyone wishes they knew.  And just like Under the Tuscan Sun, she takes on a remodeling job (this time in France) and learns a lot about herself during the process.

For someone who is either lost in a book or watching HGTV...this was the perfect mix for me.

Many of us have read Good Grief and I don’t know about you...but it amazed me how Lolly Winston could write a piece of fiction about being a widow that just seemed so real.  The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted is much the same way.  I looked up Ms. Baggott’s bio and she’s not widowed.  She’s happily married and living in Florida.  But she writes things like:

“...these were my fears.  As many versions of Henry that I lost, I was losing his version of me.  I loved that version – the one he invented....Where had those versions of Heidi gone?  Were they lost forever?”

And I have never read anything so true.

The main “widow” difference between the two books is that we meet Heidi when she is two years into her journey.  Although she seems to have a wonderful and understanding family, there is that hint of “she should be moving forward a little faster” that we have all experienced from someone outside our grief circle.  Heidi is also a mother to an 8-year-old son who, upon his father’s death, develops a little OCD and is constantly afraid of coming into contact with any unwanted germs.  Heidi seems to be aware that there is something she “should” do about it (there’s that dreaded word again)...that there is something she “should” be doing about a lot of things.  But she’s just too overwhelmed with life to figure it out.

Anyone else been there??

Now, I realize that going to France and remodeling a four bedroom house may not be in the cards for most of us.  And there may be certain parts of the story that are not just like your own.  But there are so many words, sentences, and paragraphs that will make you stop and slowly breathe out, “Yes.  Yes.  That’s exactly what it’s like.”

Perfect example:

“I loved his body – this physical shape that carried his soul, this body that I never got to kiss goodbye, that I never saw again.  Not even in my dreams about Henry, which were always strangely bureaucratic.  He would be stepping out of a squad car being returned to me while some voice-over narration explained that he wasn’t really dead.  It was simply a clerical error.  The dreams always ended before he reached me.  He was gone.  Gone.  I used to beg to have him back, pleading God, but here now, I wanted simply to be allowed to touch his skin with the tips of my fingers.  If I asked for just this one small thing, did I have more a chance?  Could I be allowed to have just that?”

I hear ya, sister.

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© Catherine Tidd 2011