Friday, August 26, 2011

Boy Scouts and the Single Mom

Another milestone.

Last night I brought my son to his first Boy Scout meeting.  As a mom (and a not very handy mom), I have been nervous about this little venture (and got even more nervous when the leader brightly talked about how much fun it is so show your son how to use a saw.  Saw??? I can’t even sew.  Which, incidentally, also disqualifies me to be a Girl Scout mom). 

And as a single mom, I’ve been worried about the time commitment and whether I can commit to all of the kids’ activities and get them there on my own.  The logistics alone are something I should really send to the Pentagon to figure out.

But knowing that this is something my son wants to do and knowing that ultimately this will probably be something that will help him in his “manhood,” I’ve decided to give up whatever life I had before (not much) and sign him up.

Last night’s meeting was hard.  And what made it worse was that I wasn’t expecting it to be.  You guys know what I’m talking about:  I’ve gotten to where the “big” things don’t bother me as much because I’m expecting them.  It’s the little things that I’m not looking out for that come up and bite me in the ass.

Being a Boy Scout was a big deal to my husband growing up.  Both he and his brother are Eagle Scouts (and for someone who didn’t make it past year 2 of the Brownies...I understand that significance).  He was all about service to his country and his community, so when we moved to Colorado years and years ago, one of the first things he started doing was volunteering with the Boy Scouts who met at our church.

And we didn’t even have kids yet.

Listening to the leader last night talk about the projects, campouts, and family activities, I had that feeling that so many of us get:  Why oh why is he not here to do this with us???    How am I going to do this?  I can’t even sew on the badges!

I’ve been trying to remind myself this morning to take things one at a time and not borrow trouble and worry before it’s necessary (pre-worrying is just part of my DNA).  For goodness sake...the Boy Scouts are a service organization.  Surely I can borrow a dad every once in awhile if we need someone to show us how to build a cabin using nothing but chewing gum and a paperclip or how to trap dinner with our bare hands!

If there’s anything I can tell you for sure about widowhood is that it tests and completely disintegrates our comfort zone.  And sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.  Who knows??  Maybe I’ll be so handy with a saw that I’ll find my second career (although I will say...if you don’t hear from me for awhile it may be because I found out I’m not so handy with a saw and typing has become a thing of the past).

It’s nights like last night when I wonder if the situation were reversed...would he be doing this better than I am?  If I were gone, would he feel as “fish out of water” as I feel all the time?  And then I realized that if he were here right now instead of me, he’d be diving out of his own comfort zone this weekend with one of our daughters.

Bra shopping.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

theWiddahood Retreat: Jonesborough, TN


I am so excited to announce the details of our next Widdahood Retreat!   
Mark your calendar and reserve your spot...our fall retreat will be the weekend of 
November 4th - 6th  
in beautiful 
Jonesborough, TN!

Downtown
Steep yourself in history when you join us in the Storytelling Capital of the World!  We will be creating our own story together as we connect, relax, and remind ourselves that, together, we can get through anything.

TheWiddahood Retreat will take place in the gorgeous Eureka Inn, located in the heart of this amazing town.  With a beautiful parlor and a rocker for everyone on one of the Inn’s porches (overlooking either downtown Jonesborough or Little Limestone Creek), this is the perfect place for you to get rejuvenated before the rush and madness of the holiday season begins.

The Eureka Inn
Our weekend will include our own personal sessions together, as well as a session facilitated by a highly acclaimed storyteller who promises to not only uplift, but also show us how loss is not where our own stories end.  We will also be attending a fun and humorous performance starring Jonesborough’s local talent!

As always, the goal of the weekend is for you to relax and connect with others.  You will have many opportunities to share as well as time alone, should you need it. Our last retreat forever bonded a group together who are still emailing back and forth and supporting each other...even though they live all across the country.  It was an amazing experience, watching strangers come together to laugh, cry, and share a magical weekend. 

Here are some further details for theWiddahood Retreat:  Jonesborough, TN:

  • We will begin on Friday night with an optional dinner.  Saturday will include 2 sessions and plenty of free time mixed in so that you can explore the town, take a hike, rest, or shop.  Saturday night we will be together for a group dinner and performance.  Sunday morning will be one final session, ending at noon.
  • The closest airport to Jonesborough is the Tri-Cities Airport, about 30 minutes away.  There is a shuttle that runs to the Inn for around $45.  Once you are in town, we will be walking to any restaurants or events, so renting a car is entirely up to you!
  • The cost for the weekend is $250.  This includes your gift bag with everything you will need for the weekend, the Saturday night activity/performance, facilitators/activities for the weekend, and wine cocktail hour on Saturday night.  Your breakfast is included with the price of your room at the Eureka Inn.
  • Once your space in the retreat is reserved, I will send you the information you will need to book your room at the Eureka Inn.  The rooms will be blocked until October 3rd.
  • Payment can be received in the form of a check or we are happy to invoice you through Paypal.  Should you need to cancel, please do so by the first week in October for a full refund and so that we may open the spot for someone else who has expressed interest.

Once again, this weekend is open to the first 12 people who reserve their spots!  There are several rooms that can accommodate more than one person so if you are interested in sharing a room please let me know.  If you have any questions or wish to reserve your place, please contact me at catherine@thewiddahood.com.  



Can’t wait to see you there!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grief: We Gravitate Toward People Who Do It The Same Way We Do


I recently posted an article on the Widow Chick Facebook page about men seeking out gender specific bereavement groups because they feel they grieve differently.  Well...of course they do!  I can’t understand the need to go out and buy a muscle car after the death of a spouse (as some of my widower friends have done).  And I can almost guarantee that they probably didn’t go through the same purse obsession that I did right after my husband died. 

I can’t explain it.  It just happened.

I kind of agree with this article and I kind of don’t.  I mean, I’m guessing that I would get a more understanding nod of the head sitting with women during group therapy than I would with a group of men.  Let’s face it:  They just don’t “get it” (the need for the perfect purse, I mean).

But the truth is...I don’t think it’s necessarily gender specific.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Grieving is like parenting.  We gravitate toward people who do it the same way we do.

Think about it.  Many of us became parents right around the same time our friends did.  And before we had that first kid, we had visions of BBQs every Sunday, constant playdates, and our children marrying and having a son or daughter-in-law that we practically raised.

But then the kids became toddlers and we noticed that our friends really didn’t care if their child spilled chocolate milk all over our carpet.  They didn’t believe in time-outs and felt that discipline would diminish their child’s creativity.  They watched with delight while their child weaved in and out of the waiter’s legs at a restaurant as we cringed and swore we would never go out in public with them again.

Soon, we started seeing less and less of each other and your dream of their child becoming your in-law became more of a nightmare.

It’s the same process with grieving.

I think, for many people who haven’t had a significant loss, they assume that grief binds us all together...especially if we’ve had the same kind of loss.  And it does in a certain way.  Like giving birth...we can all commiserate with the pain of how it all came about.

But sometimes...that’s where our similarities end.

Some are desperate to take control of their lives after loss, while others have had enough and just wait for life to happen.  Some are ready to date after 6 months and some can’t think about it after 6 years.  Some are exhausted.  Some can’t stop moving.  Some need to be with people all the time.  Some need to be alone. 

And just because your husband died in an accident doesn’t always mean that you are going to relate to someone else who experienced a sudden loss (I think in the beginning we assume that is an important criteria for a supportive friendship when really it’s just a piece of the puzzle).  Someone who experienced a suicide may really hit it off with someone whose spouse died after a long illness.

The truth is, there are so many individual ways that we go about this experience...it’s really hard to find someone else who goes through it the same way.  And when I think about my close widowed friends right after my husband died...many of them were actually widowers.  Because we grieved the same way.

I think that’s part of the reason why so many people reach out in the online community.  When I started thinking about theWiddahood.com, I said that I wanted it to have the structure of online dating...but for it to be a support website.  Meaning:  I wanted people to be able to search based on certain criteria and “try each other out” virtually so that they could then take the next steps they needed to find what could be the one person who truly understands what they’re going through and how they grieve.

I know for a fact that so many of you go through the same thing I do:  When someone hears about the loss of a spouse, they immediately call you and tell you that you need to get in contact with them or that they gave that friend your information.  And honestly...I have no problem with that.  But in the last 4 years I’ve learned that the bond of “widowhood” isn’t the only bond that counts.  And while I’m happy to talk with them, listen to what they’re going through, and commiserate...I may not be their “go to” person in the future.

And that’s okay.

I’ve said to people many times, “You can give out my information, but I many not be the friend they need right now.  It depends on the person.  And depending on where they are...they may not be ready for my friendship.”

I mean...they may not even want to acknowledge that they’re a widow yet, much less talk to some crazy woman who’s been at it for 4 years.

I’m sure that many of us have learned the hard way that just because someone has experienced something similar, they may not be our new best friend.  It’s like going out on a first date:  You’re so hopeful that this could be “the one” and when you get there...the chemistry just ain’t right.  Finding the right support has a lot of trial and error involved.  But when you find it...it’s something that will forever change you, your life, and how you help others.

And let’s face it.

The right support is the right support, no matter what we’ve all experienced.

 If it’s done well...the details really shouldn’t even matter.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Back-to-School Blues


Back-to-school time is here, yet again and the vibe in the old Widdahood is that we’re all struggling.  It occurred to me this year (yes, it’s taken me 4 years to figure this out) that this time of the year...well....

It sucks.

This is yet again one of those “Milestone Moments” (also known as “Maalox Moments”) that no one else thinks of but us.  I don’t think it’s on the radar of Joe Public that we struggle when it’s time to pack the old backpack (and, in my case, clean out the old lunch boxes from last year...also known as “I-Don’t-Know-What-Kind-Of-Food-That-Used-To-Be-But-It-Explains-That Smell-We’ve-Had-All-Summer” Day), pick up the new school supplies, and get ready for yet another year.

Every year, it seems like it will get easier.  And in some ways it does.  This year, I actually had the presence of mind to take pictures of the kids on the first day of school.  The last time I did that was right after my husband died (when I was trying to behave like a “normal” mom) and I took a picture of my daughter on her way to first grade.  I noticed, as I looked at the pictures a couple of years later, that her shoes were on the wrong feet.  That I had put her shoes on the wrong feet. 

Definitely a “Widda Moment.” 

I’ve thought for years that only I had issues with back-to-school time.  But now I’m looking at Facebook and theWiddahood.com and noticing that almost everyone is dreading it, too.  Kids are starting high school and parents are noticing that they’re weeping over this milestone alone.  Forms are being filled out with either the word “deceased” written down or a very white blank where their spouse’s name belongs.  Parents are struggling to figure out how in the hell one parent can get all of the kids to the activities they want to do after school.

I don’t know about you, but every year I struggle with the decision of whether or not to mention that the kids’ dad is gone.  For the first time this year, I didn’t pull the teachers aside and have that quiet little talk with them.  My oldest daughter is to the point where I trust her judgment and comfort level with the subject and I just casually mentioned that if she feels like she would like to tell her teachers, she can.  My son’s teacher “looped up” this year and she’s aware of the situation, so there’s a conversation I don’t have to have.  And I’m sure I should have had “the talk” with my youngest daughter’s kindergarten teacher, but frankly...I’m burned out with telling people and getting the sympathetic nod, so I chose to blindside her on the “getting to know you” sheet she handed me to fill out:

“My daughter likes reading, coloring, and pretend play.   
Oh!  And her dad’s dead.”

I know, I know.  I should be a better parent.  But I’m tired.  So there.

School really snuck up on me this year.  We got out early in the spring, so that meant that we had to start up early this fall (even though it’s still summer).  One day we were floating on the lazy river at the water park and the next I was packing smelly lunchboxes and loading everyone on the bus.  I almost forgot to tell them not to wear their bathing suits and was this close to handing them all popsicles as they walked out the door.

I’m trying to ignore the fact that this is my oldest child’s last year in elementary school (otherwise I’d be flipping back and forth between feeling misty and feeling old) and I did pretty well with shipping my youngest off to kindergarten without getting too emotional.  When we woke up that morning I said to her, “What am I going to do all day without you here to keep me company?”

She replied, in her wisest 5-year-old voice, “Well, you could go to the gym or to the grocery store or go pick up my new shoes....”

I felt better after she had given me that little “to-do” list.

I know that in a couple of weeks the shock of starting another school year will have worn off.  I will be grateful to be back into a routine and be able to enjoy my silent house (yesterday I actually ate my WHOLE LUNCH in one sitting!!!).  I may even treat myself to the pedicure that I’ve been trying to chase down all summer.  I will appreciate the fact that my kids love school and can’t wait to go every morning.

But right now it’s still fresh.  The passage of time.  The reminder that we’re all getting older and enjoying moments that he’s missing.  The horrible “single parent” feeling that only the start of the school year can bring out.

And the forms.  Those damn forms.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Love: An Ability or a Liability?

Liability:  something that is a hindrance or puts an individual at a disadvantage (Wikipedia).



Ability:  the quality or state of being able (Merriam-Webster.com).



I’m on the fence about this one.  And I’ll tell you why.  I know you must be thinking that it’s because I’ve loved and lost...and that’s partially true.  The truth is, I think I’m on the fence about it because I’m old.

I have loved.  And I have lost.  And, when it comes to love...I’ve gotten old.

I know that many of you are sitting there rolling your eyes and getting ready to hibernate your computers, thinking, “35?  35?  And she says she’s old?” 

But I think, when it comes to love we tend to age pretty quickly.

Since I’ve been trying to build a love life the second time around, I’m less open to new things.  I went from losing my husband suddenly...to wanting to fill that void in my life immediately...to learning (the hard way) that that wasn’t going to happen...to learning (and loving) how to be by myself...to trying to learn how to be with someone else again.

I went from feeling like love is a liability...to learning that it’s an ability.

The truth is, I actually think that most people my age (and older...and some, maybe younger) probably feel the same way.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been widowed, divorced, or never married:  If you have made it to a certain age and have found yourself single...we’re probably all in the same boat.

I’m less bendable (mentally and physically).  I’m more patient about learning about myself and somewhat less patient about someone else learning about himself (bitchy, but true).  And I’m slowly getting to the point where I just like my life...even though it wasn’t the life I thought I was going to have.

Previously married or not...isn’t that kind of true?

In my first, vulnerable single days after 30 (yikes)...love was a liability.  There was so much at stake.  My sanity, for one.  Breaking up or something not working out would have been enough to send me into a tailspin of epic proportions.  I fluctuated between not having the time or heart to deal with someone else’s shit to not wanting someone else to have to deal with my own.  I flopped around, like a fish out of water, hoping that someone would have the heart to gently throw me back in.

Relationships didn’t work out.  And, true to the cliché... “it’s not you...it’s me.”  Love meant heartbreak.  Abandonment.  Happiness, but with a price.  It didn’t matter how much I was loved...I sabotaged anything I could get my hands on.

In short...I was the liability.

Golly, I wish I had thought to put that on my online dating profile.  Just think of what a hot ticket I would have been.

There came a point (and truthfully...I don’t know when it happened) that that stopped.  The ability to love grew.  Like a toddler, it learned to walk.  And in the childhood phase it learned to run.  I like to think that it’s a teenager now:  It’ll test you, but ultimately it’s something you might like in a few years so you should take a risk and stick with it for a little while.

I’ve started thinking that the ability to love is not something you just have.  It’s something you learn.  And sometimes relearn.  And sometimes try and abandon while you’re relearning.  And sometimes come back to on New Year’s Eve when you’re frustrated with being alone, have had too much wine, and register for eHarmony when you swore you would never do it again.

Wow.  Sorry.  I think I was projecting there.

The point is...I don’t think that the ability to love just happens.  Just like any other “ability” you have, you have to learn it.  You didn’t just walk out of your mother’s womb (although, by my third kid it kind of felt like it)...you had to figure it out.  You may be a musical genius, but that didn’t happen without some effort.  Superman didn’t know what the hell to do with that cape the first time around...they just didn’t include that part in the movie.

Think of the liability he must have been.  And we single girls thought we were bad. 

Sheesh.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Miracle of Nature


Since I spent a week or so getting ready for theWiddahoodRetreat:  Colorado, I promised the kids that this week would be their week.  Hard to believe, but they will be going back to school next week.  So we’re doing our best to fit in what we can in the space of 7 days.

High on the list was a trip to the Butterfly Pavilion, a great place to go here in Colorado.  The kids are actually able to hold a friendly tarantula named “Rosie” (Mom opted out) and look at insects from all over the world.  But the best part is...they get to walk around a huge atrium while colorful butterflies swirl around them.

One of the things I love the most about the Butterfly Pavilion is that when I walk into the hot, humid, rainforest-like atrium where the butterflies live...it really makes me appreciate living in cool, dry Colorado.  The hair that I worked so foolishly to straighten before we left, curled up into a “Shirley Temple-like do” the moment I walked in.  And my kids experienced sweat (which usually evaporates so quickly in our dry climate they don't even know it exists) in the man-made heat and humidity.

(Needless to say, we’re not the heartiest bunch.  After about 45 minutes we were ready to get the heck out of there.)

If it weren’t for the conditions, though, I could watch the butterflies all day.  They are just amazing creatures and each one is so individual.  If you sit still, they’ll land in your hair, on your shoulder...they’re just everywhere.  The white ones that were as big as birds looked like angels to me.  The ones that had the most vivid blue streaks on the insides of their wings and then the most clever camouflage on the outside (making them look like owl eyes) were just a marvel of nature.  That place even makes an ordinary moth look good.

At one point, the kids and I decided to take a break on a bench and just observe the butterflies around us.  My daughter suddenly looked down and saw one with most of its wing broken clean off.  We all sat there and watched it, perched on a leaf, and felt a little sad because we couldn’t imagine that this beautiful creature could possibly survive.

So...we were shocked when suddenly it just took off, swirled around us, and landed in my daughter’s hair.

There is a lesson to be learned here.

that beauty surrounds us all of the time
























but it’s often so individual 
that we have to 
pay close attention



otherwise it might be hidden from us












and that even creatures who seem so irrevocably broken



somehow find a way to 
fly.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's a Good Idea to Retreat Every Now and Then

I have been looking forward to theWiddahood.com Retreat all summer, like a child waiting for Christmas Day.  And now (sniffle) it's finished.  But also like Christmas, I was given gifts (of friendship) and memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I left the weekend feeling changed in a way that I can't describe but in a way that I will be forever grateful for.  The last couple of days, I've actually been feeling like, "Wow.  That really happened."   All I can say is that it was a magical combination of a fantastic town, peaceful moments when we wanted them, not-so-peaceful moments when we wanted them (tee hee), and a group of women I will never forget and I know will always be a part of me.

To my Widdahood Golden Girls (that was for you, Karen), I thank you for your new friendships and your sisterhood. I'll never forget how...
...we laughed...












...we learned...










...we shared...
















...we absorbed...
















dealing with grief one moment at a time doesn't seem so bad...













 
...now that 
we have each other.