Friday, June 24, 2011

Phenomenon


I love the movie “Phenomenon” with John Travolta (George) and Kyra Sedgwick (Lacy) because it shows a great love...and how it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known someone...love is as strong as you make it.

Towards the end of the movie, George is dying (sorry...spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen it) and Lacy is wondering how in the world she is going to live without him.

He asks her how she would comfort her children when they were babies.  And she starts rocking back and forth, back and forth, with her hand over her heart, beating time.

He finally makes her open her eyes and points to the tops of the trees, which are moving back and forth at the same time.  Just rocking.  Swaying.

George explains to her that that’s how she can comfort herself.  Rock and sway...slowly.  Keep time.  And she will be comforted.  He will be there.

I think about that part of that movie all of the time.  When the sun has almost set and the sky is light blue, I’ll sit on my swing on my back porch. That time of day...there is barely sunlight.  I watch the silhouettes of the trees.  They’re so strong at the bottom, nothing moves.  But at the top, the newer part...they seem weak.  And they just sway. 

It’s almost hypnotic.

Last week a storm blew in.  My girls woke me up (my son will sleep through anything).  It hailed, it rained, and it sounded like the roof was going to come off of my house.  I ran downstairs to see if all of the windows were shut and wondered if I should take us all to the basement.  I watched the huge tree in my backyard bend in the wind.  Bend almost in half.  I felt sure that the entire thing was going to snap.

But...the next morning, it was there.

Calm.

Steady.

As if nothing had ever happened.

It had lost a few leaves.  Some minor branches.  One major limb...but nothing that would kill it.  It would stay.  It has stayed...for longer than I will ever know.  Weathered storms.  Taken a beating.  But still standing.

Sound familiar?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Would Rather Pass a Kidney Stone Than a Milestone

It’s late and I’m tired.  Which means that this blog may not turn out like I want it to.  But since I’m alone and left with the History Channel (which has somehow changed from how the states were formed to how the pot industry has grown)...I guess I’ll write.

My birthday is next week which is the 2nd hurtle in the line of 4 that I have to deal with in the next month.  The first was Father’s Day which I somehow managed to sleep through.  I’m still not quite sure if this lack of consciousness was due to a virus or my inability to deal with the day.

Something that only you Deep Grievers will understand.

All I know was I had no business being behind the wheel of my daughter’s foot-pushing toddler car...much less the powerful engine of my minivan.

This year will mark 4 years.  FOUR YEARS.  Four years of my sad little cluster of dates.  Father’s Day.  My birthday.  His “death-a-versary” and my wedding anniversary.  I’m seasoned.  I’m a professional griever.  I’m halfway through my medical degree in grieving.

And I spent my few hours awake wondering why in the hell it was still so hard.

I came to a conclusion that I thank my “thinking sweats” for ( you know...those clothes that you’ll wear for days and think no one actually recognized you in.  Like you were incognito while you were in your “break down wear.”)  (Side note:  They noticed you but were too embarrassed to claim you.)

So here it is.

It’s not the milestone.  It’s the revelation.

Think about it.  With every birthday, holiday, or Monday...you’ve passed something.  Yes, I realize that it sounds like a kidney stone.  But the truth is...it’s much more painful.  And more enduring.  And can’t be broken up by lasers.

Last year, around my birthday, I had a similar breakdown.  I realized that I was about to turn the same age that my husband was when he died.  And that made me sad.  UNBELIEVABLY sad.  So sad that my insides turned out.  So sad that my life, which I thought had already been turned upside down...turned upside down again (which I realize should make it right side up...but it didn’t).

Deep down, in my core...just...sad.

And then it passed.  Life went on and I was so relieved to just be over that milestone.  I thought for sure that I would never feel that bad about my birthday again.

Until this year.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt the milestone coming again.  I’m going to tell you what it looks like.  It looks like the clouds are building...but you think the storm is going to pass you by.  Then they turn green and threatening and you wonder if it’s possible to take shelter.

And then it’s there on top of you...like a swirling vortex of life you can’t dodge.  And all of the contents of your life are circling.

And you wonder if they’re going to land intact or in pieces.

My milestone is coming.  It’s circling.

My sister asked me today, what I wanted to do for my birthday next week.  And I told her, “I don’t care.  I just want it to be over.”

She said, “That makes me so sad.  You’ve always loved your birthday!”

And I said, “No haven’t.  Not since he died.”

I’ve always been the youngest of my group of friends.  I have always been a few years younger, or a few months younger...something that everyone has joked about.  I’m the baby of the group.  I was the last one to get a license.  I was the last one who could get into a bar.  That was my job.  That was my place. 

This year...for the first time I realized...I’m not the youngest of our group anymore.

He is.



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


© Catherine Tidd 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day: Both Grieving and Grateful

I love my father as the stars - 
he's a bright shining example 
and a happy twinkling in my heart.  
~Terri Guillemets



I’m going to try and keep this one short and sweet (you know how I have the talent of the “prattle”).  I know many of us are struggling this weekend.  Many of us are missing the father of our children, our own fathers, or are just trying to work through yet another “family” weekend. 

And when I say work, I mean work.

This week has been a tough one for me as well.  As I said in a Father’s Day blog on The Denver Post’s Mile High Mamas, Father’s Day begins my “cluster” of milestones.  Many of us have them and I’ve always thought how strange it is that it works out that way.  It always seems like our spouse died around a birthday or a holiday that makes one season unbearable for us.

For me...it’s now.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day and in a week it will be my birthday.  A couple of weeks after that is the anniversary of my husband’s death and then 2 days after that is our wedding anniversary.

As many of us know, the anticipation of these milestones is usually harder than the actual day.  My own grief and frustration about grieving finally built up this week until I had a blow up of epic proportions at about midnight on Wednesday.  If there was a hole in my face...I was leaking from it. For a couple of hours, I allowed myself to cry, vent, and generally not feel good about this whole widdahood thing.

I think I scared my dog, but I feel much better now.

This week has also been incredibly emotional for me because some good friends of ours called with some news about their newborn that sent me into a tailspin.  Now these are the friends who you know should be parents, but take their own sweet time going about it.  And just when you think it’s never going to happen...they announced over the winter that they were expecting. 

But earlier this week they called to tell me something that no parent ever wants to hear...whether it’s about your child or someone elses.

Their 3 week old baby’s heart had started failing (apparently due to a birth defect they didn’t catch) and had been taken in for emergency by-pass surgery.

My first thought when they told me this was, “Why wasn’t my husband here?”  He was part of the foursome.  Part of the team.  I mean...I could talk to the mother about the ins and outs of breastfeeding and all of the child birth stories that tend to make men leave for manlier pastures.  He should be here for the conversation about how hungover they both were for the birth of their children and how it might be possible to attach a remote control motor to a stroller so they won't have to leave their napping positions under the tree at the park.

For a moment...I felt like a very poor substitute.

It’s taken me a week to realize that...even though I may feel inadequate in picking up the slack for the both of us as a parenting couple...I must be coming across okay to the outside world.  This morning it dawned on me...they called.  They called me.  They knew he wasn’t home.  They knew he couldn’t come with me to fill in meaningless conversation during the endless hours that seem to happen at the hospital.  They knew I was flying solo.

And I was enough.

My friends will get to go home today with their beautiful month old daughter and this morning I woke up with a feeling that overpowered my dread of Father’s Day.  Even though there is still a sadness in my heart that I can’t explain that my husband will never meet this beautiful little girl, I remembered the look on his friend’s face last night at the hospital as he watched his baby sleep...the baby he could have so easily lost. 

And even though I will desperately miss my husband tomorrow, I will be grateful that there is a dad out there who will be spending the day with his daughter...when there was a chance that things could have turned out so differently.





Saturday, June 11, 2011

Maintaining Friendships: Whose Turn Is It To Call?


I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately and how they change and I know that’s also on the minds of many of my widow(er) friends out there.  I guess it’s that time of year...when friends and family seem to get together more than usual, so friendships and how they change are pretty much “in your face” right now.

This is a blog I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I wanted to write it very carefully.  I don’t ever want to come across as someone who doesn’t understand or who dismisses how hard widowhood can be.  Believe me...I’m not that person.  But I also think there is a different side to our changing friendships that we don’t often look at.

I’ve thought for years how lucky I am that many of my friends didn’t abandon me when my husband died.  I gave them all a lot of credit (which they deserved) for sticking by me when the going got tough.  And tougher.  And even tougher still.  But I think for a long time I wasn’t giving credit to someone who was the most important part of keeping my friendships together.

Me.

I know I’m different from a lot of people. Throughout my life, very rarely would I sit back and wait for someone to come up with a plan or call me.  I was always the one putting parties together, organizing Happy Hour, or just calling to see if someone wanted to go to the movies.  My family affectionately calls me “Julie the Cruise Director” because I’m always the one getting everyone together.

I know this is going to sound strange (and for those people who are supporting friends who have entered the Widdahood, please forgive me if I make you sound like the family pet for a minute), but I think there is a certain training process we have to put our friends through when we lose our significant other.  We have to show them who we are now.  We have to give them time to digest who we’re becoming.  Instead of being upset that they’re not calling...we have to make the effort and call them. 

One of the big reasons I started thinking about this was Memorial Day weekend.  I heard from several people who said they had no plans for the weekend because no one had called and asked them over and they seemed so disappointed.  I started to feel really sad about that.  But then something occurred to me.

No one had called me either.  I had no plans.  And that’s when I got on the phone and called them.

I really think there is a certain amount of time after we become widow(er)s where we almost have to insist that our friends stay our friends.  They don’t know what to do.  They don’t understand that we’re not crying because of something they said...but because there’s a piece of lint on their shoulder that looks like our dead spouse and that just set us off. They don’t know when we want to talk about our significant other and when we want to pretend like all of this never happened.  We’re a really confusing bunch.  I’ve even found myself stumbling over what the “right thing” to do is with newly widowed friends of my own...and I’ve actually been through it.

They need to take their lead from someone and I hate to tell you this, but...we’re that someone.  Many of our friends have never been through this before and many of them haven’t even been through this with another friend.  They don’t know what to do.  We’re the ones who know what we want and need. 

So...why are we waiting around for them to make the effort?

I’ll give you an example:  When I first lost my husband, I had a great core group of friends who really looked out for me.  They would call and check in every once in awhile...you know...kind of the social “mirror in front of the face” to make sure I was still functioning.  But it occurred to me that after a few weeks...I never saw their husbands.  Now, I’ve heard other widows say that their friends are suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that they’re suddenly single and a possible threat.  At that time...that didn’t even occur to me.  What seemed to be happening was much worse.

The husbands just didn’t want to be around me.

It got to the point where I thought enough was enough.  If I wanted my friendships to survive (because, after all, I had been friends with their husbands too), I had to prove to them that they could.  I started putting together small dinner parties at my house when I felt up to it, on my turf, and inviting the couples.  Night after night, I would have people over until setting a table for 5 instead of 6 became more normal.  I would still bring my husband up in conversation (I still do) and after awhile my friends stopped fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats when I mentioned his name.  As time went by, we all seemed to start working together to fill in what was missing the best we could.

I didn’t wait for them to come around.  I didn’t wait for them to invite me over.  I took control.  In a way, I forced my new situation on them until it became their new situation as well.  And dammit...it worked.

What I’m about to say is going to sound incredibly unfair, but I firmly believe that it’s true. 

When you become widowed, you have to make more of an effort to 
be a friend than you ever did before.

This isn’t permanent.  But it’s a fact.  If you want people to be with you...you have to call them.  If you need to talk, you have to go through your entire contact list until you find someone who picks up the phone.  I would say that at the beginning stages of widowhood, if you’re interested in staying close with a few people, the effort to keep those friendships going shifts to about 70% on your part and 30% on theirs.  And I’ll tell you why.

Because they don’t know what the heck to do with you.

They don’t know what to say.  They don’t know how to act.  They don’t know if you want them around or if they’re an imposition.  For awhile, it becomes your duty to be as detailed as possible in saying what you want and need.  You can’t dance around it.  You can’t hint.  And you can’t wait.  You have to call someone, anyone, and say, “I want to go to dinner tonight.  Will you go with me?”

I realize that there are many people in the world who are not like me and being social isn’t their thing.  In fact, for a lot of those people, I’m betting that they lost the more social person in the couple.  Which makes it even harder to think about making the effort and coming up with a plan.

What I would suggest are baby steps. 

And believe me...I know what I’m asking of you.  I’m asking that you, in your exhausted widow state, add yet another thing on your list of things to do.  But I’m also suggesting that you have a little more control of this part of widowhood than you might think.  In good and bad times...no one wants to go through losing a good friend.

 And that good friend...is you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Working on Recovery


Oh, how grateful I am for my blog.  My only adult interaction in days.

I’m sitting on my back porch, surrounded by bees and pine pollen, but so desperate for sunlight, I really don’t care.  I had a feeling that today was going to be rough when it started out with my son waking me up from the first, deep sleep I’ve had in awhile, informing that the cat just threw up in his room.  And not just in his room.  Under his bed.

Fun.

After seeing Mike stir around for a minute from his medicine-induced slumber, I decided it was time to start making him breakfast so that he could take his next round of pills.  I popped an English muffin in the toaster oven with ham and a slice of cheese on it while I cooked an egg to make him a breakfast sandwich.  When I started to get the muffin out, I noticed that the cheese had somehow stood up on its own and melted to the back of my toaster oven.

Yup.  Not the beginnings of a good day.

The last couple of days have been long and tough.  It’s easy to forget how never-ending days can be when things are going well, but it all comes rushing back when you’re in it again...kind of like child-birth.  You forget how painful it was, years later, and you start saying to yourself, “That really wasn’t so bad.  I can handle the work and the lack of sleep.”  And like an idiot you do it all over again and, a little too late, you start remembering how hard it really was.  

The days blur together into one weird, exhausting time-warp.  Setting my alarm at night every four hours to give Mike doses of medicine so that we can try and stay on top of the pain a little has not made for a whole lot of rest.  Sleeping on the couch in the living room (which, ironically, was the one that used to be in the nursery when I had the kids) so I can listen for him when he needs something, allows for some sleep in between, but not as much as I would get sleeping in the wonderful “cave” I made for myself in my own bedroom after my husband died.  No real time to sit and have a meal, between feeding the kids and feeding him, has left me feeling run down and crabby and wishing I could clone myself so that I could leave and get one of my magical pedicures.  And a haircut.  And maybe a new purse?

You all have been there.  It’s a vicious cycle.  No time to take care of yourself makes you feel terrible.  Until you feel so bad you just don’t care about taking care of yourself.

I know that I have it in me to do this all on my own, but I’m grateful to the very core of my being that I don’t have to.  Despite the fact that my own mom had foot surgery on Wednesday (the same day Mike had his), my parents just came over and scooped up my kids to take them swimming.  So this gives me a few hours to relax a little more than I have been, sit (which I haven’t been doing much of), and possibly eat something.

Most importantly, I’m getting a short break from jollying everyone along, pretending like this is just one big fun sleepover.

So, now I’m on my second large cup of strong, black tea and getting ready to switch to something harder, like Diet Dr. Pepper.  What I’m really wishing is that it was more socially appropriate to drink alcohol in the middle of the day.

I think I’m actually going crazy.  You know, my husband was in an accident and then we were told that he was injured, but was going to be fine.  And then a few hours later he had a stroke.  And then a few hours after that, his brain started to swell and the doctors told me there would be about a 5% chance he would make it through.

When I first got to the hospital after the accident and we were told he was going to be okay, I did what I’m sure many of you have experienced:  I didn’t think about how hard his recovery from a dislocated knee and broken ribs would be.  I just thought about what needed to happen to get him better.

And I was robbed of that chance.

I’ve been thinking so much about that time these last couple of days, wondering if this constant vigilance and care-taking is not just a part of what I need to do for Mike...it’s the chance to do what I thought I was going to do for my husband.  It would have been close to the same situation:  Same three kids (only now, thankfully, a little older and more independent), leg injury, same house. 

And I want to make sure I do it right.

There are even some moments when I wonder if my husband has put this situation before me so that I would know that I would have done it, that I could have done it, and stop wondering if I had it in me.

I know...it’s crazy, isn’t it???  And I haven’t even switched over to the wine yet.

There are times when I really have to remind myself that this is life.  This is it.  Life isn’t just made up of all of the wonderful, happy moments.  It throws things at you that, hopefully, make you appreciate the good moments when they happen.  I’m not always good in less-than-perfect situations...I’m the person who always expects life to be fun and full of great memories and I don’t like dealing with the other part.  I get impatient with the bad and want to get it over with as soon as possible and usually the “bad” never works with my schedule.  It’s hard for me to sit and wait for the good to roll around again.

But, as we all know...sometimes you just don’t have a choice but to wait.  You just have to keep reminding yourself that it will.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You May Not Be Dyin'...But We Widows Will Make You Think That You Are


So I’ve been sitting in the hospital all day, waiting for my boyfriend to come out of surgery.  This has, obviously, given me a lot of time to think.

Fortunately, I’ve had some good reading material.  Ellen Gerst, from Love After Loss:  Writing the Rest of Your Story, asked me to read her new book, Suddenly Single:  Help on Navigating the Stormy Seas of Loss, which has been a pleasure.  Fabulous ideas that have had me going, “Uh huh.  Uh huh.  Oooo...I’m going to try that one.” 

When I emailed Ellen, to let her know that I was so thankful to receive her book, she very sweetly said, “Are you sure you want to be reading a book about widowhood while you’re sitting in the hospital, waiting for someone to get out of surgery?”

To which I replied, “I might as well.  I’ll be thinking about it anyway.”

This is a tip for all of you un-widowed people out there:  If you should ever become sick or incapacitated...you may want to think twice before you ask a widow to come with you to the hospital.  It has nothing to do with the fact that we may not be able to handle it (although my own absence of a complete mental belly-flop today has made me realize that I’ve reached a new, more functioning stage of widowhood). 

It has more to do with how we make you feel.

I’ve been kind of laughing to myself this morning (okay...I guess if I’m laughing to myself in the surgery waiting room, the mental belly-flop could still be forthcoming) because in our preparation to get ready for today...I think I’ve really been sort of preparing for him not to come back.

It’s kind of weird.  I haven’t actually been thinking to myself, “He may not come back.”  Consciously I’m pretty positive that he will.  But all of my preparation the last few days is something I probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t entered the Widdahood at a time when I least expected it.

I’d like to think I’ve been sort of stealthy about it...but I’m sure I haven’t.  I mean, you can’t say to someone, “I know you’ll be fine!!  You’re going to sail right through this!  Now, give me the phone numbers of all of your family members and the passwords to every account you have.”

I think I’m just trying to improve upon the last time.  All you widdas will get this:  When your spouse died...weren’t there some things that you wish you could have done differently?  Things you wish you’d said?  Information you wish you had prepared better?  At least a better book to read in the waiting room?

Well...unfortunately the person we get the “next time around” is the beneficiary of all of the depressing knowledge that was bestowed upon us during our previous experience.  The result is that there is a little part of us that thinks the “next time around” is going to kick the bucket at any moment and, as with everything in life, we would like to do better when we have the second chance.  It’s like getting a second shot at the Olympics.  Only more depressing, insanity-inducing, and we don’t get a medal if we do well.

Yes.  It’s terrible to live with that feeling as a widow.  But I’m sure it’s down-right freaky for the other party.

I really did leave this morning with confidence that everything would be fine.  Which is a huge switch from how I used to be.  Just a few months ago, if someone told me they were going to have a cavity filled, I would have shoved a “Medical Power of Attorney” in front of them.

This guy has been around long enough to know how truly crazy I am.  And one of two things is happening:  Either he’s gotten to the point where it entertains him slightly or he’s still working on completing some required community service hours I don’t know about.  Either way...this whole experience has had to be a little unsettling for him.

I mean, any other guy who dates a girl who hasn’t gone through the widdahood experience probably would have shown up to surgery this morning, a little hungover from the “pre-tumor-removal-party” his smokin’ hot girlfriend threw him the night before, alcohol warnings be damned.  Instead, he “partied” with me, who made him make a list of every medication he’d taken in the last 2.3 years and forced him to start charting all of his “outflows,” just in case that might affect his chances of a successful operation. 

And I’m not the only one who has been affected by my widowhood.  When I walked into the surgery waiting area, who should I find waiting...but my entire family?  Now, these are the kind of people who would go to the hospital and wait with anyone who needed them...a friend, neighbor, family member.  My mom came armed with Phase 10 cards, my sister came with plenty of subjects for us to talk about, and my dad bought me lunch (because you’re never too old to sponge free food off of your parents). 

All I can think is that I’m kind of glad that they came after my boyfriend was already in surgery.  Because if he had seen us all here, faces pale and anxious...he would have thought he was dying for sure.

So now I’m up in his room, surgery done, watching him squirm with pain, and thankful for it.  Because, as a widow I know...

...it’s better to see squirming than not.