Friday, April 27, 2012

Life's Transitions and the Widow Infection

I feel like I’m in a period of transition which is not unusual for me.  It’s really not unusual for anyone like me, and by that I mean a woman in her 30s.

This year, I will be turning 36 which means that if I were in elementary school, it would be perfectly okay to round up to 40.  But I’m not in elementary school, so it’s not okay.

I don’t mind being in my 30s because I’m starting to recognize it for what it is and I think  lot of my friends are as well.  This is the time of life when we start caring a little less about the trivial and more about the concrete.  We start questioning what we really want, professionally and personally, because if we really want it, we better start working on it now.  

I think for many of us, our social circles start getting a little smaller because we’re starting to identify the people we really want to spend time with.  This is because we’re always so damn busy, working that job or raising those kids.  So we better have a good time with you or that one hour of free time we get every week may be spent elsewhere.

I know that sounds cold, but it’s really not.  As we get older, the amount of effort we put in to be with other people who don’t live with us seems to be greater.  And that’s okay.  Because as we get older we should be around people who make the effort worth it.

The down side to this for me is…well…I’ve completely lost my social life.  Where I used to be the girl who wanted to be around people all of the time…I’ve now turned into the woman who appreciates my couch, a glass of wine, and a good movie on a Saturday night.  And since I don’t think you can be called a “hermit” or a “recluse” until you hit at least 70…I’m wondering if that just makes me “lazy” or “bitchy.” 

And then I wonder…during this time of transition…if that’s something I want to change or something I’m okay with.

As you can tell, I have a lot on my mind.

Transitions with friendships have been going on all of my life.  They started when I was about 5 years old and have continued up until now.  Of course, I didn’t realize it when I was 5.  When Jane stole my Elmer’s glue in the middle of my tissue-paper-butterfly-creation, I didn’t think to myself, “Huh.  I wonder if I should rethink this friendship and possibly revisit it again when Jane has a little more appreciation for what I have to offer as a person.”

I’m pretty self-aware, but I think at that stage in my life I probably just hauled off and smacked her.
The difference now is that I’m older and more experienced.  I can recognize these transitions for what they are and move forward with what life hands me.  Part of that has to do with being in my 30s and part of it has to do with what I’ve been through, which is true for everyone.

I honestly thought, right after my husband died, that I would go through a period where I’d want to look up every friend I’ve ever had who either faded from my life throughout the years or had a falling-out with and reconnect with the mindset that life is too short and I should fix any and all broken friendships.

That didn’t happen.

I went in the complete opposite direction, thinking life is too short so I better spend my time with who I really want to spend time with.  Since my time is more limited now than it has ever been before I had to choose my friendships carefully.  And since I know that everyone on the entire planet is constantly transitioning and evaluating, I had to realize that I might be someone who might fall off their list.  And I had to be respectful of that.

I’ve heard so many widows say, “I have lost so many friends.  It’s like they think widowhood is contagious or something.”  And to be honest, I never thought that.  Never once did I think that by not hearing from people, they actually thought that what had happened to me would happen to them if we went out and had a glass of wine together.  

Of course, I had friendships that didn’t last after my husband died.  Not a lot, but I had a few.  But I looked at it for what it was:  A transition that may or may not have happened whether he died or not.  That could have been the catalyst, but if one little death was all it took to derail it, then it must not have been much of a relationship in the first place.

Widowhood is no more contagious than any other experience in life and I promise you that not one person around you thinks it is.  They’re staying away from you, not because they’re worried it might happen to them, but because they just don’t know what in the hell to do with you.  And because you are the only person who has any idea of what to do with you…it’s up to you to make the effort to communicate it to them.

If, after that, the friendship still isn’t the same, then look at it for what it is:  A transition, pretty much like any other change in friendships you’ve had before.  It’s more painful when you’re going through so many changes in your life all at once.  But it’s also an opportunity.  It frees up time so that you can devote yourself to the friendships that really matter.  It teaches you about becoming the friend you want to be to someone else.  And it opens up a whole new world of possibilities where you might find a person you never even knew existed before.

And who might just become the unexpected champion you’ve always needed.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tax Season and America's Ability to Make the World a Crankier Place

Whew.  Have you noticed lately that everyone seems to be in a mood?  And I don’t just mean cranky.  I mean Oscar the Grouch coming off of Prozac and PMSing at the same time cranky. (If that’s even possible.  I know that he’s supposed to be a guy but you can’t tell me that guys don’t go through hormonal swings, too.  The main question is:  Can Muppets get PMS and if they do…what do they do with all of the excess water weight?)


My kids have been at each other constantly, we’re getting closer to summer vacation (which I simultaneously look forward to and dread.  No, wait.  I just looked at the cellulite on my legs.  I’m just dreading it), and Jessica Simpson is about to give birth.  And while I’m happy for her and her family, I’m a little concerned about how that will affect the world as we know it.

I could be wrong, but I think that the online community gets a little cantankerous around this time every year.  I don’t know if it’s because all of us Americans are dealing with filing our taxes and that bitterness seems to rub off on the entire world (which is easier now with online crankiness), but I think that the virtual bad mood started around mid-March and is just now letting up.

Everyone gets irritable around tax time and rightfully so.  All of us (and yes I put myself in this category) who prefer to put our heads in the sand 11 months out of the year are suddenly thinking, “I have to pay what?  And where exactly is that going?”  And without a satisfactory answer, we are forced to write a check for about 75% of what we labored for the previous year to people whose math skills we’re not all that confident in.

That would be enough to annoy anyone.

No one really thinks about it, but tax time is also really difficult emotionally.  There it is in black and white, what really happened to you the year before.  Your earnings (which, when you’re filling out your taxes you’re actually wishing were less than they are…how screwed up is that?), how generous you are as a person (or how much you needed to write off), and your relationship status: 

DIVORCED:  Thank God I got out of that.  Where do I sign?
WIDOWED:  Huh?  What happened?  What’s my name?
MARRIED:  Crap.  I sure hope I made the right move because this is really going to screw up my taxes.  And why is her signature so big and overlapping mine??  What does that mean?
SINGLE:  Yes, I know.  I know.  Get off my case, okay?

I’ll never forget the first time I had to deal with my taxes on my own.  It was a big year.  My husband (who had always done our incredibly simple taxes before) had died mid-year and there it was on paper:  From January to June – MARRIED.  From July to December – WIDOWED.

Thank you, US Government, for that little jolt out of my denial that sent me to an extra 2 months of therapy and inspired an out of control wine bill.  Can I write that off?

My taxes were so complicated that year and I was more than happy to hand my paperwork over to a very competent accountant so that I didn’t have to think about it anymore.  And then the next year rolled around and I assumed that I would have to do the same thing, that it would still be complicated.  But this time I was in for a surprise.

Because I technically didn’t work that year, I had nothing to file.  Zip.  Nada.  The US Government didn’t even want to hear from me.  Not even a note to say, “Hey!  I’m still here!  I promise I’ll get my shit together and send you some money next year!”

Oh, I know what you’re thinking.  You’d love to have that problem.  But at a time when I was starting to question who I was, what my place was in the world, and how I should go about saving all of my personal relationships…it was somewhat of a blow to know that I had been so completely screwed up that year that even the government didn’t want to hear from me.  I felt like writing them a letter saying, “You don’t think I worked?  You don’t think three children and full-time lunacy is work?  How dare you think I’m not worthy of taking money from!!!”

Talk about give me self-esteem issues.

So, if you’re overwhelmed, filling out your tax forms this year, remember that millions of people are feeling the same way.  If you feel helpless and alone, just remind yourself that you’re not.  And if, for some reason, you ever wonder about the influence America has over the entire world just remember this:

Our education system may be spiraling out of control, we can be somewhat confused about our military power, and, yes, Jessica Simpson’s pending childbirth may not say much about us.

But we have the ability to make the entire planet cranky in April.

So there.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dealing with Easter and Clinging to Impossible

I’ve been in such a mood this last week.  And I feel like I hit my peak this morning.  Very little sleep last night, the kids were cranky, and then – and this really sent me over the edge – Sarah Palin was a guest co-host on the Today Show this morning.  How that woman has gotten anywhere in politics is a mystery to me since she has a problem answering the most benign questions.  I swear, if someone just asked, “How are you?” she’d probably answer with, “Well, my opinion on that is that everyone has their own opinion.”

So when I heard her nasal laughter at 7:30 this morning, I just wanted to get back in my bed and throw my covers over my head. 

Part of my mood lately is the upcoming Easter holiday.  After looking up my Easter blog from last year, it would appear that along with eggs, the Easter bunny drops a foul mood into my basket every year.  Funny how I never really noticed it before.

This year is a little different because I’m not only working through my own holiday widow crap, but also trying to work the day around a significant other and his plans.  And that has me feeling a little blue and more than a little irritable.

I was brought up in the most nuclear family you could possibly imagine.  The only thing we were missing was the .5 kid.  My parents have been married for 43 years, my sister has been married for 16, and I would have been married for 16 as well, if my husband hadn’t made such an early departure.  And in my family (and to me especially) holidays were always a big deal.  My mother always added a touch of class to Christmas, birthdays were dealt with extreme consideration to the honoree, and Easter was filled with little surprises, egg hunts (I even made my parents hide eggs well into my 20s…I know…weird), and the entire family sitting around a big ham.

After my husband and I got married and we had kids, our Easter was spent hunting eggs early in the morning, frantically getting all of the kids ready for church, and then going to the country club for Easter Brunch.  That’s one of my favorite memories:  The kids’ faces lighting up, just waiting for the 6’ tall plush Easter Bunny to make it to our table, while my husband and I made 2000 trips to the buffet, trying to get everyone’s plates filled with the things they liked.  The kids would finish eating just as we got our own plates and my husband and I would power eat so that we could finish before they got cranky due to over-stimulation.

But everything is different now.  My husband is gone, we don’t go to the country club anymore, and other people have to be taken into consideration when blissfully before…we just did things on our own schedule.

My boyfriend is doing his best to work the day around his kids while trying to take into account what we have going on for the day.  And, I’m ashamed to say, no matter what he suggests…it just doesn’t work for me.  And that has turned me into the Easter Bitch.

Every suggestion he has made throughout the last week has been met with and stony “whatever” from me.  However we look at it, the day will be broken up and disjointed, something that families across the country deal with as they work through custody arrangements and mixed families.  And when we deal with scheduling on a day-to-day basis…I understand it’s just the reality of our situation.

But when we deal with it during the holidays, the child in me wants to stamp her foot and scream to the universe, “It’s not fair.”

After my boyfriend came up with 20 different scenarios on how the day could go, trying to please me, the unappeasable, he finally said calmly, “What do you want?”

And in that moment I realized exactly what I wanted.

I wanted the impossible.

I want my husband back.  I want the day to be easier.  I want what I signed up for when I married him 16 years ago.  I want to celebrate as a family and for it to be a no-brainer how the day will go.  I want the regular problems that I used to have:  Getting the kids ready for the day, the two of us struggling to get them all fed without ruining the beautiful outfits my mother bought them, and spending the afternoon doing what we want to do.

I want it back.     

The truth is, my obstinacy about the day has nothing to do with my boyfriend’s schedule, his kids, or his custody agreement.  It has to do with my inability to think of the day differently.  Not one other person seems to mind that the day will be different than it always was:  My kids are just bopping along, ready to go with any plan that we come up with.  My parents will happily welcome him to Easter lunch no matter what time he shows up.  It’s me.  I’m the one who can’t digest that the day will be different.  That it will always be different…no matter how the day is scheduled.

So this Easter has me hunting.  Hunting for acceptance.  Hunting for peace.  Hunting for joy in a life I wasn’t expecting.

Who knows?

Maybe old E. Bunny will leave it in my basket.