Thursday, December 26, 2013
I don't know about you, but when I make through certain milestones...I feel like I've accomplished something monumental.
I think I was prouder of myself when I got through the first anniversary of my husband's death than I was when I got my college diploma. I want to jump up and down every year on the day after his birthday because I'm so excited to be on the other side. And, frankly, I think I deserve a trophy every year on December 26th.
I'm actually cheating and writing this on Christmas Day. But I can feel it mounting - that jubilation that only getting through the holidays can bring. I've gotten through the build-up and what is sometimes the forced merriment of the holiday season. Christmas Eve, and all of the stress that comes with it, is over. I'm halfway through what I consider a successful Christmas Day (meaning nothing catastrophic has happened) and can already feel the relief that comes with getting closure on another December 25th.
I know that so many of us are sad that, not only are we missing our spouses, but some of the magic of the season is gone as well. And I totally get that. Even if you're fortunate to be with people during the holidays, there is still a loneliness that can't be explained to others. The best way I can think of phrasing it is that even if you're with people you love...there is still a connection that's missing. There's a separateness. There is a caution that we didn't feel before, a worry that if we feel too much - whether it's sadness or happiness - that emotion might just be too overwhelming.
This is the reason why I love widow(er)s. No one gets that like we do. I can guarantee that tomorrow I will wake up to many messages from my comrades in loss, celebrating the fact that they've made it through yet another milestone (or maybe even their first).
How I wish we could get all together! We need a big giant ballroom with an elaborate stage - even bigger than the Oscars! We will all be nominated for different categories like Best Meltdown or Most Elaborate Comfort Food Creator or Most Realistic - Coping Category. We will all applaud each other as we take the stage in our most comfortable sweats and each accept an award that we will proudly display in our homes that will remind us - and everyone we know - that we made it through another day.
Because it's big. It's a huge accomplishment that most people don't understand. I don't know one person in our situation who hasn't woken up one morning and thought, "I did it. I made it through." Others in our circles don't understand the energy, emotional control, and fierce concentration it takes to sometimes just live through a day.
But we do.
I read a quote the other day that I love (of course now I can't find it). It went something like "I know I'm having a hard day, but so far my success rate at getting through tough moments is 100%." And that's true. I've done it before. And I will have to do it again. But I've proven to myself that I can. And so have you.
So, I raise my glass you, my fellow widdas. If you were here, I'd be handing you a tacky trophy probably made out of an abandoned Barbie doll and whatever craft supplies I have laying around. But I would be giving it to you with pride, smiling at you, and congratulating you for making it through the day.
Because as we all know...that's huge.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
So, I’ve seen this on the Widow Chick page, I’ve seen it on theWiddahood.com, and I’ve seen it pop up in my own writing.
“I know this sounds selfish, but I hate that there will be nothing under the tree this year for me.”
Many of us are thinking it, but very few people actually say it out loud. It makes us sound petty. It makes us sound immature. And it makes us sound whiny.
But I get it. I totally do. Because my husband was the best about Christmas (I’m choosing to ignore the year that he gave me an Oral B toothbrush and focus on the year he gave me a car). He might have screwed up my birthday every once in a while, our anniversary about every other year, and every Mother’s Day…but he made up for it at Christmas.
Probably hoping that he wouldn’t have to start the New Year off sleeping on the couch.
After giving it some thought, I’ve decided something: We’re not whiny and we’re not immature. We’re not selfish and we’re not petty.
If you and your spouse were anything like me and mine, you know that it was that person who knew you best. It was that person who knew exactly what you wanted for the holidays and tried their best to deliver. It was that person you could be the most honest with and say, “This is great, but I really wanted a different color. Do you mind if I exchange it?” without hurting their feelings. It was that person who thought of you and your wants, needs, and wishes above anyone else.
And now they’re gone.
The truth is, it wasn’t about the present – it never was. I mean, if I really wanted a piece of jewelry…I could go out and buy it. It was the fact that someone else was thinking of me, wanting me to be happy, and putting so much thought into a gift (except that whole toothbrush debacle)…wanting nothing more than to see joy on my face Christmas morning.
I don’t think I truly felt like an adult at Christmas until after my husband died. Sure, we had three small children and the focus was almost entirely on them, but I always knew that my husband would surprise me with something. So in that way…I was still pretty child-like around the holidays until my early 30s.
Now I do feel like the Christmas season is entirely about the kids. I’m just there to wrap the presents and cook the food. I know that’s a pathetic thing to say, but it’s true. And, yes, it does make me extremely happy when I see their anticipation build the weeks before Christmas and how excited they are on Christmas morning.
But the child in me misses that, too.
I have no solution to this – you know me, I always try and come up with one. I can’t fix it and I can’t make it go away. All I can think is that it’s part of the grieving process and since we only really deal with it once a year, it would make sense that it’s just going to take longer to work through it.
But it’s not selfish of me to want those presents under the tree.
It doesn’t make me a bad person to want something special to unwrap.
And it doesn’t mean that I’m wallowing when I say I just miss my Santa Claus.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Oh Woe, Is Me
(To be sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree)
Oh woe, is me
Oh woe, is me
My pipes are completely frozen
Oh woe, is me
Oh woe, is me
I pray that they're not broken
The plumber says I have to wait
And there's a good chance there's a break
Oh woe, is me
Oh woe, is me
Lots of cursing spoken
Yup. After a summer of too much water...I now have none. I'm writing this in a house that is far too quiet on a Saturday because my kids have all been farmed out to various friends and family members while I wait for a plumber to come look at the problem tonight. I have relied on the kindness of my neighbors for the use of their facilities (so that my kids won't wake up to the headline "Colorado Woman Arrested for Peeing in Backyard") and this morning I took a shower at my gym, marveling at the miracle of plumbing in a way that I've never done before.
As you can imagine...all of this is not helping my already wavering holiday spirit.
I'm hoping that as I write this, my humor will find its way in - because usually that's the only thing that keeps me from going completely insane. I sent a holiday article to my agent yesterday only to have her respond (as I knew she would), "I was hoping this would be funnier."
But let's face it. These last couple of days...it's been hard to find my "funny."
I've truly been practicing what I learned the year my husband died - to take each moment as it comes and only focus on the things I can control. Take one problem at a time, one step at a time.
The other thing I've learned is that I should never take flushing toilets for granted.
I've been doing everything I can to get things flowing, but unfortunately, the only thing that seems to be flowing is me. As I told my neighbor yesterday, the umpteenth time I rang her doorbell to use her bathroom, "You have no idea how much you need to go until you can't." And the need to plan my bathroom breaks has made me feel like I have to go all of the time.
This doesn't leave much time to concentrate on the important stuff.
I allowed myself the luxury of a half hour nap today because, obviously, I didn't sleep very well last night. I was awakened at precisely 12:20 AM by what sounded like a low, thundering noise and something cracking. I immediately jumped out of my bed and ran around my house, looking at every exposed pipe under the sink and the faucets. As I stood, sleepy-eyed, in the middle of my kitchen and saw my cat run through the room in a frenzy of midnight activity (why do cats do that?) I came to the conclusion that the noise was her, running up and down my upstairs hall as if possessed, only to pause occasionally at my laundry basket to sharpen her claws. Which explained the cracking noise.
No offense, but I was hoping to not be writing at all today. I was hoping to be finally putting my basement back together this weekend so that I would finally have my office back after all of that summer flooding. My husband's old pool table was supposed to be gone yesterday, new carpet installed, and I pictured myself finally wrapping the Christmas presents I desperately need to get started on so that my kids can start shaking them.
And then three things happened: my carpet guy postponed, my pool table buyer backed out, and my pipes froze.
I will admit that when all of these things happened yesterday, I sat down and cried for about an hour straight. I know that these are "classy" problems that I am ultimately fortunate to have...but they're still problems. And they're still overwhelming when left on my own to deal with them.
I know that most people hate that phrase "there's a reason for everything" and most of the time I'm with you on that. But I'll admit that part of me, when going through trying times such as these, does wonder if someday I'll figure out the lesson this was supposed to teach me.
Is it learning new things about home maintenance?
Is it so that I'll think back on a time when I had more strength than I knew possible?
Is it so that I'll know that I can actually get through these things without one drop of wine (which will make me have to knock on my neighbor's door at double the frequency)?
Is it my husband causing so many problems with the house from the great beyond, telling me that it's okay to move on?
Who the heck knows??
And so, I've decided to put my Christmas spirit on hold for a few days. I'm giving myself permission to not have the jolly demeanor I try so hard to have this time of year for my kids. Years from now, they might reminisce about the year I decided to play Scrooge for the holidays - and that's okay.
I've earned it.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
I am very fortunate that, so far, I have yet to have one person say to me, "Shouldn't you be over this by now?" They might think it, but so far, no one has had the balls to say it to my face.
But the truth is, that probably no one is more judgmental about their grief than a widow(er). We don't need someone to make that comment to us because when we wake up every morning with that feeling that something irreplaceable is missing - which does lessen over the years, but is present all the same - a lot of us think, "Ugh. Shouldn't I be over this by now?"
It's been six years and I know I do.
I always hate writing about this stuff because I know that there is someone out there reading this who is on her second month of widowhood, looking at her computer, mouth open in horror, thinking, "She's been at this for six years? Is this what I have to look forward to?" And my answer is...yes and no. Because what those of us years into widowhood have figured out is that most days we're able to live with our grief. But it is still there.
Of course, there could be a widow out there reading this who is years away from her loss and thinking, "Thank God it's not just me."
Nope. It's not just you.
I'm so damn hard on myself and this is why most people have no idea when I'm going through a tough time. And if I actually break down and let someone in on what's going through my head, it is peppered with hundreds of teary"I'm sorrys" throughout the conversation. Because, even though I keep telling the rest of the widowed world that there is no time limit on grief...sometimes I have a hard time believing it myself.
I'm so impatient. I want to be better and I want to be better now. I may have 330 days of living life to the fullest, but it's those pesky bad days that get me so frustrated. Even this year, as my husband's birthday approaches (which has always been one of my hardest days), I thought I was doing so well and I actually (stupidly) thought I could control my grief.
But, as we all know, that's impossible. Because as I steered my mind toward getting everything done that I needed to , my body said, "Nope. Sorry."
And I started to shake. And get dizzy. Although I'm going to bed when my kids do, I'm so tired I can barely put one foot in front of the other. I stoically held back my tears during my daughter's Honor Roll ceremony last week...and then went to a business meeting where I thought I was going to throw up the entire time.
I told my mother this week at lunch, "You'd think I'd be better by now."
She didn't say anything, her eyes tearing up, feeling my pain as only a mother can. And then it hit me. She doesn't think I should be better by now. I do. And I don't know why I'm putting that pressure on myself. Why I can't just let people into my life and my emotions without feeling so apologetic about it? I mean really...the support system I have created for myself can take it.
It's hard to just let it all go, isn't it? To have those conversations with people about how difficult things can be. Because it makes it so real. When it's living in my head, it's just mine. But when I tell others and see the effect it has...it becomes part of them, too. And that's a piece of this that I can't stand - that a part of my life makes the people I love sad.
Because that's not me. I'm the fun one (I think). The funny one (I hope). I don't want to be the one with the Indian name She Who Makes Man Cry. But I guess at this point in my life, to know me is to love me - all of me.
The people around me seem to get that.
Why can't I?
I had a dream about my husband last night - no big surprise since he's been on my mind constantly this last week. It was like I had gone back in time and gotten the phone call for the first time. So, when I got to the hospital, I knew what was going to happen, but no one else did and, given the fact that my husband seemed injured but fine right after his accident (which is what happened in real life), no one could understand how emotional I was.
I hesitated before I turned the doorknob to enter his room. I knew that I was about to see him for the first time in over six years and I can't describe the feeling I had - it was like elation and dread all at the same time because I couldn't wait to see him, but I knew this would throw me back to the beginning of widowhood. And I would have to do it all over again.
I've never seen my husband so vividly in a dream. Usually he's kind of blurry but in this one I could make out every feature. I was actually able to lean down and kiss him and I truly felt it. It was so strange.
The doctors wanted to take him in for knee surgery for his dislocated knee (something that did not happen at the time), and I kept saying to them over and over, "His brain is going to start swelling in about 24 hours. Can't you do something about that now?" The doctors looked at me as if I was crazy and wheeled him away into surgery.
I knew he was gone. I started scrambling around, trying to find my purse so that I could call my present-day widow friends because I needed them. I knew what I was about to face and I knew I couldn't do it alone. But I woke up before I could talk to them.
I sent a few of them an email this morning, trying to explain the dream so that I wouldn't forget it and how it was the best and worst I'd ever had. I woke up feeling like a part of me was back at the beginning, but on the other hand...I got to touch my husband. Something I have never been able to do in a dream before.
One of my friends replied, "Isn't it odd how our subconscious tries to weave together the timelines of present-day us with the reality of 5 years ago - and plays out all the fears and feelings we have as we try to avoid the same fate. Almost like a jigsaw puzzle, our brains trying to orchestrate a better outcome."
But, as we all know, the outcome is not ours to control. The only thing we can do is move forward the best we can with this life that we've been given. And I think I'm doing okay with that, even if I do have hard days. After all, even though in the dream I knew I had been thrust back into the beginning stages of widowhood...
...I also knew I had my widdas to get me through.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
"Are you okay?"
As a widow, you know there are about fifty different ways to answer that question.
The nice I-don't-want-you-to-worry-about-me way: Of course I am! Why wouldn't I be? The I'm-so-tired-I-don't-have-the-energy-to-bullshit way: No. I'm not. But don't ask me why because I just don't want to explain it AGAIN. Then there is the I'm-bitter-and-I'm-not-going-to-hide-it way:
Hell, no. Would you be okay if you were me?
But the people around us aren't mind-readers and most of the people we love are actually asking because they care. And when my mother asked me that question this week, I couldn't help but be honest.
"Not really. I'm pretty tired."
And then she asked a very intuitive question.
"Are you lonely?"
Now, for many of us...this is a no-brainer. Of COURSE we're lonely. But, the truth is, that so many of us do such a great job of masking it that the people around us have no clue how truly painful our situations are. I gave my parents a glimpse of that this summer when my basement flooded and in tears I said to them, "You guys have no idea how lucky you are to have each other."
Even though I have been widowed for six years and feel that I lead a very full life, there are definite moments of loneliness. I recently had one widow email me and explain in detail how much she missed the comforting touch of her husband, something that I completely understood. Because even though I know I have friends I can call to come over and hang out with me...it's not the same.
Not by a long shot.
I think I get this way every year. I know it's because the holidays are looming before me and that's a lonely time for a lot of people. I keep busy and there are many things that I find joy in during the months of November and December. But there are specific moments when...well...
I HATE IT. Like, "take my widowhood outside and want to beat the shit out of it" hate it.
"Yes, Mom. I am lonely."
And then I said something that surprised her. And I was kind of surprised that she was surprised.
"I hate being the fifth person in everything that we do."
I have a very close family - both of my parents live near me as well as my sister and her family. And believe me...no one could be more grateful for the support that they have. I know that when I wake up in the morning, if my world should come to a crashing halt, they will be there for me.
Because they've already proven that.
But I hate being the odd man out. I hate being that extra seat. I hate not being part of a twosome. I hate packing my kids up alone after a family meal at my parents' house and heading home. I hate that I don't have someone squeezing my hand under the table every once in a while. And, to be honest, I hate that my sister's husband doesn't have the buddy he once did to hang with him and watch football while the women gossip in the kitchen and cook.
My mother was mortified when I said it. "Oh, Catherine. We don't make you feel that way, do we?"
"No one makes me feel that way," I said tearing up. "It's not an emotion. It's just a fact. I'm the extra."
It's sometimes amazing to me, how well I've masked my emotions. When I asked my dad what he thought of my book, the first thing he said was, "I can't believe how much you went through. I mean, I knew most of it, but I had no idea the depth of all you were feeling." His response surprised me a little because I thought they knew everything.
But I guess there's a lot that I keep to myself.
It's funny how I didn't realize that my mom thought I was perfectly comfortable at all of these family functions. But I guess if I don't tell her and show up smiling...how is she supposed to know? There is no quick fix for this and - to use my least favorite phrase - "it is what it is." It's been six years and do you know what I've realized?
It's okay to be sad.
It's okay to let people in on it.
And it's okay to miss what was. Because maybe that will help me find what could be.
Monday, October 21, 2013
"Mom," said my 7-year-old daughter while I was making her breakfast, "are you a Miss or a Mrs.?"
"Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it. I was married to your dad and he died, so that still makes me a Mrs...."
"But you're single now so that makes you a Miss," she finished, proud of herself for figuring out this riddle.
"You can look at it that way," I said, giving her a little smile and turning back to the pancakes.
Suddenly, there was a loud noise behind me.
"MY MOM IS SINGLE!" my daughter yelled out to the empty breakfast room. "SINGLE MOM, RIGHT HERE!"
I stood there for a second, spatula in my hand, wondering how I needed to proceed with this conversation. And then she erupted into a fit of giggles and asked for her pancakes.
My daughter's question wasn't a new one...it's certainly one that I've pondered myself (without that last part - I've never yelled out that I'm single as I'm waiting for my breakfast to cook). And I know that it's something that's come up quite a bit in other online forums and discussions. It's not even a question of the title. It's a little broader than that.
Who are we?
For some reason, I've never gotten offended when someone calls me a "Miss." I don't get upset when I get things in the mail that say "Ms." And I don't insist that everyone call me "Mrs." I didn't get irritated with it when I was married and I don't get irritated with it now that I'm a widow.
I guess it's because I think I'm all of the above.
I will always, in a way, be a Mrs. But now, let's face it, I'm also a Miss - at least to most of the people I know. And Ms. doesn't offend me because...well, I don't know why but it doesn't. I guess it's because I'm part of a generation of women who heard the tail-end of the feminist argument that was so pro-Ms. many years ago.
I guess I figured that if it was good enough for Gloria Steinem, who am I to argue with it?
But I get it. I get both sides of the argument. I get that it's frustrating when people start calling you "Miss" because who the hell are they to tell you that you're not married anymore? I get the people like me who realize that, like in many instances after you lose a spouse, others just don't know what to do with you anymore and might just make a mistake. I get that you might feel strongly one way or the other and not know why. And I get why you've decided to go to medical school, just so you can get the title of "Dr." and not have to worry about it anymore.
I get it.
Boys have it so easy. They don't have to change their names or change their titles, depending on life's events. They didn't have to stand in line at the Social Security office when they got married (vowing they'll never get divorced because they don't want to go through that shit again) and their "Mr." includes single, married, divorced, or widowed. They don't go out to their mail everyday, look at how the electric company titled their name and think, "But is that really who I am now?"
That question won't distract them from the actual bill that's sitting in their hands that they will forget to pay because they're still questioning their place in the universe. Then their electricity won't get shut off and they won't have a complete mental breakdown when they call the electric company and politely ask to have it turned back on, only to have the customer service rep respond, "We really need to speak to your husband about your service."
Then they won't run screaming from their darkened homes because they're so tired of people saying that and then they won't get sent into a 72-hour psyche hold all the while yelling, "I just want to know - am I a Miss or a Mrs.?" only to have the staff start calling them "Ms." sending them completely over the edge.
See? This question really is more life-altering than it originally appears.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Ever have one of those weeks where EVERYTHING seems to happen at once? Not necessarily in a bad way, but you've spent two weeks in a lull only to have every appointment, meeting, and event hit in one seven day period?
Welcome to my week.
I had just been thinking, "Gosh, I really don't have all that much going on. I really need to get out more." Then BAM! Parent-teacher conferences, choir concerts, piano recitals, meetings, and one interview for VoiceAmerica later...
...I kind of feel like I'm starring in my own Calgon commercial.
Granted, none of these things are what I think fit in the "getting out more" category, but they've definitely kept me busy.
I have one more parent-teacher conference to go tomorrow and I'm certainly hoping it goes better than the one yesterday. Oh, the teacher had nothing but nice things to say about my child who is apparently an angel at school and saves all of her evil for home. But for some reason, I just felt teary mid-way through.
What is it about school that gets me? It's such a gut-check every time! And it used to be just the random graduation from preschool, kindergarten, fourth grade and the leap up from the short water fountain to the tall one. Now I've got to get all weepy at the conferences, too?
I think it was when my daughter's second grade teacher started describing her in class.
"She's so smart," she assured me. "But she gets bored. She finishes first and then she starts talking to the other kids."
Well, that didn't surprise me. I mean, this is a child who does not stop making noise - not talking, just noise - all day long. I've been shocked that it hasn't been more of a problem at school.
The reason I got weepy is because what the teacher said pretty much described my husband during his formative years.
"She's just like her dad," I said, trying to swallow. "That's how his mother said he was."
That's all it takes sometimes, isn't it? Just that little trigger over something that's really not that big of a deal. That teacher could have asked me to describe in detail the scene at the hospital when my husband died and I could have done it without shedding a tear. But a little thing like my child's inability to leave her classmates alone just like her dad and I fall to pieces.
It's the widow way.
Today I had my interview with Aimee Dufresne on VoiceAmerica. I'd really been looking forward to it because I've spoken with Aimee (a fellow widow) a few times and we instantly connected. I felt sure that it was going to be a good show - less of an interview and more like a discussion between two friends.
But this morning I woke up a little nervous. I can handle myself in interviews and in front of a crowd, but for some reason this morning...one thought hit me.
What if I say something really stupid?
And then I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I went on a walk to clear my head. I treated myself to a Starbucks. I assured myself that if I just thought things out as I went along, I would be fine. Surely I could get through this without making my agent and my publicist want to tear up my contracts and run screaming away from a person who is into self-sabotage.
And then it happened.
I was pulling up my pants in the bathroom (I know, TMI) and I suddenly felt like I had pulled all of the muscles in my upper back. Now, I'm choosing to believe that that happened because I've been under a lot of stress this week and not because I'm so out of shape that I don't even have the strength to lift yoga pants.
Don't disabuse me of this notion.
And of course I had to share this little event.
I seriously just pulled a muscle in my back as I was pulling up my pants, I texted a friend.
Just don't say that in your interview, she responded.
I won't, I assured her.
Gulp. Will I?
SHORT EPILOGUE: I didn't.
Monday, September 30, 2013
When I started this blog years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would blog twice a week. And for a couple of years...I stuck to it. But lately, life has been getting in the way and so I'm going to make that promise again (yes, I'm re-promising) - not because I think the world is so interested in my life, but because this blog has become a diary of sorts to me. Through it, I have documented so much during the last few years and it's been such a help for me to see where I've been and how far I've come.
Bottom line...I need to get back to it. For me.
I've tried to write as honestly as I can - some moments have been funny, some not so much. As many
coming out in January that, much like the blog, is raw, funny (I hope), talks about the lessons I've learned and some that took me a while to get. I've worked on this book, off and on, for years and even now when I read the early copy of it, I have a hard time believing that I went through what I did.
A feeling that I'm sure all of us widows and widowers share.
And now it's here - a new chapter in my life (no pun intended. Well, maybe it was a little). This moment in my life that I've worked so hard to get to - talking to people about publicity, book signings, and above all, hopefully getting out and meeting so many of the online friends I have made who have helped me through this journey.
I can't wait. And I want to remember it all. So...back to blogging.
I'm going to honest with you. This summer pretty much blew chunks (to use a colorful phrase from my children). I went into it thinking that I would make it the best it could be since last summer also blew. But the truth is, sometimes we can go into times in our lives with the sunniest outlook possible and still have fate rain on our parade. And this summer was a downpour.
I'm typing this from the new "office space" I've carved out of my bedroom because my basement office has been underwater most of the summer. It is now waterless, but also carpet-less and in some spots drywall-less. Framing is exposed and everything has been turned upside down. I've documented this in previous blogs where I went from crying hysterically to my parents to shrugging my shoulders at the gallons and gallons of water that came pouring through my window. And now, I'm to the point where I need to contact so many contractors I feel paralyzed. So, after I type this...I'm going to start making a list so that I can bite off small chunks at a time.
Because sometimes baby steps is what it takes to get through.
I know that someday I will look back on this summer and admire myself for how strong I was (most of the time). But right now, all I can say is that it really blew.
And to quote Forrest Gump: "That's all I have to say about that."
A while back, I wrote a blog about a funeral I attended for a former neighbor who lost her son when he was just in his twenties. I have thought of her so many times, but (and I swore I would never do this) haven't talked to her in a while.
Really. I should know better.
I ran into her last week at Hobby Lobby. We stood in the fabric section, catching up on pretty meaningless news and then I said, "Okay. The dreaded question. How are you really doing?"
And she's okay. Or as okay as we all were when we went through an unimaginable loss, which is to say she probably wasn't. But she did what we all are able to do sometimes - talk about what has happened and how our lives have unfolded since then with dry eyes that we can't explain because moments later we'll get in our cars and hear a song that will make us cry our eyes out in the parking lot.
But somehow we got on the topic of the crazy things people say after loss - you know, the thing most of us shake our heads in wonder about. And pretty soon we were both laughing so hard we could hardly speak.
"Some woman was complaining to me about her husband's death right after my son's death and actually said to me 'why couldn't it have been my son?'," she said, laughing so hard at the absurdity of it she could hardly speak.
I couldn't help it. I started cracking up, too.
"Some woman told me about a friend of hers just days after my husband's death who was in an accident similar to my husband's and was decapitated," I countered.
Which sent us into another roar of laughter.
Other women walked by wide-eyed as she and I laughed harder than I've laughed in months about her son who I know she misses with all of her heart and my husband who I'm still trying to learn how to live without. We leaned on our carts for support and finally dried our eyes.
"People don't get this," I said, finally calming down.
"Nope," she said, taking a deep breath. "But if you can't laugh at it sometimes, you'll go crazy."
Find more of Catherine's work at www.catherinetidd.com and more from other widow(er) bloggers at www.theWiddahood.com.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
I have a tendency to freak out about things that will probably never happen.
This goes beyond the usual irrational worries that we all have. My friends love to joke about my fear of rogue waves (that developed after watching a special on TLC) and every time I pass by all of the construction near my house, I wonder if we're about to be engulfed in another dust bowl (thanks to that documentary that was on last year). My stress dreams usually involve being surrounded by at least ten tornadoes and if there is any indication of rain, I stay clear of the mountains to avoid any chance of a flash flood.
My land-locked home is my haven. It has been my place of comfort since my husband died. Sure, I've been through some tornado warnings and yes, we've had some drought issues. But for the most part, I have been lulled into a sense of false comfort, thinking that if something bad was going to happen to my safety zone, it would have happened already.
I realized how foolish I had been as I was watching water stream into my closed basement window during a flash flood-type rain last week. The plaster bubbled underneath the frame and I helplessly watched my basement carpet disappear under water.
There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
It was so bad - so bad - that it was pointless to try and stop it. I watched as my window well completely filled with water and there was nothing I could do except let it run out into the basement. My neighbors and my parents rushed over with wet vacs, towels, and steam cleaners to suck up the water. We all ran around clearing furniture and trying to save the saveable. They all watched me carefully, positive that a nervous-breakdown was imminent.
But it never came.
There is something about events that are so bad, there is nothing you can do but watch them play out. I didn't feel helpless...I felt resigned. If it had been a small amount of water seeping in, I would have been panicked trying to keep it under control. But a flood - all I could do was stand back and watch.
That's not to say I wasn't upset. I was. Not in that moment, but the next day when I was so exhausted from the night before, I felt like I couldn't take another step. I couldn't wrap my head around all that needed to be done and it all seemed overwhelming. That's when that old widow feeling - "why am I here dealing with this alone?" - seeped in and I spent the day crying.
Not a painful sob. Just a constant stream. Much like I had witnessed the night before in my basement, I knew that I was powerless to stop it. My body didn't clench up in the fight to keep the tears at bay. I knew they needed to come. It's quite possible that they'd needed to come for a while for various reasons. It just took a storm to release them.
And so I had my own personal flash flood that day. I just let it go because I knew I needed to. And by the time I put the kids to bed that night, I was so exhausted there was no way I could keep my eyes open long enough to worry. The next day, I woke up so dry-eyed, no one would have ever guessed the necessary breakdown I'd had the day before. I made phone calls, appointments with contractors, and met with my insurance adjuster. And while I can never say that I'm grateful that my basement is underwater and my entire house smells like a mixture of wet dog and damp sponge, this whole thing was yet another reminder that we are never as in control as we think we are.
All we can do is take each moment one at a time.
Do the best we can to solve the problems that we face.
And weather the storm the best we can.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
I have written several posts in the last few years about getting rid of things around my house, whether it was by choice or by force. The huge TV of my husband's that made us all nauseous to watch: CHOICE. The dryer that we bought used when we were first married in 1996 and then had the nerve to croak 13 years later: FORCE.
Very few people understand what it means to get emotional about a dryer. It's almost impossible to explain to others how sad we were when we threw away that promotional pen from the dentist's office that dried up, but was our spouse's favorite. Not everyone gets why we've held on to a broken down chair because getting rid of it would be like abandoning one of our children.
But as we all know, it's hard. It's like another small death, a piece of our loved ones that we grieve over and over again. If it were up to me, I would probably have piles of dirt all over my backyard where I've buried and mourned all of these things. A huge one for the first couch we bought together, but eventually sounded like it was going to break in two every time we sat down on it so I had to replace it. A small one for the VCR we bought each other as a joint Christmas gift the year we got engaged. Tiny holes for all of the tools I have gotten rid of throughout the years because I either discovered that we had three of one item or I knew I would never figure out how to use them.
And now, a new object is about to join all that has been lost.
Now, I'm not as emotional about the printer as I was about the dryer and I don't know why. Maybe it's because more time has passed and I've healed a little more or maybe we just weren't as close as the dryer and I were. But, the truth is...we have been through a lot together.
When I went to the store to buy a new printer the other day (because my old one died in the flood in my office this summer - my only major casualty), I asked a salesman to help me figure out what I needed.
"I had my old printer for twelve years," I said. "So I don't even really know what I want."
"Twelve years?" He said in disbelief. "That is a really long time."
And when he said that, it hit me...all of the things that old printer and I have been through together.
printing baby pictures of my first child
getting my husband through grad school
getting my husband through grad school
the eulogy my father-in-law wrote for my husband's funeral
emergency contact forms for the kids
retreat handouts for theWiddahood.com
excerpts of books on their way to getting published
That printer has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. It has never failed, never jammed, and was always faithful as if to say, "I will always be here for you."
And so this morning I raise my cup of tea to my printer. You were appreciated and you will be missed. And I'm sorry that I am not ballsy enough to bury you in the backyard, in a way you should be honored. Because while I am grateful for you, I am not willing to get committed for you.
My neighbors have witnessed enough and that could be what finally forces them to make that call.
Friday, July 19, 2013
I don't know what it is about anniversaries, but I live like I don't any other time of the year.
For at least the week before, I excuse every weird thought or action I wouldn't tolerate in myself any other time of the year. I act weird, pay my bills late a couple of days late, probably drink too much wine, and assume that the rest of the world (especially my creditors) will somehow know that it's anniversary time again, so I'm somehow exempt from being normal.
The weird thing is that what I equate it to is how I used to act around my birthday.
I mean, it's not exactly celebratory, the anniversary of my husband's death, but it's when I try to plan fun things to distract myself and generally go off the rails for a few days (as much as I can - I'm pretty boring on a regular day, so "off the rails" isn't much to brag about). I'm thinking that if anyone else paid attention to what I was doing, they would think that something great had happened. Instead of something mind-boggling awful.
A death anniversary could have us going one of two ways - either it terrifies and overwhelms us or it makes us feel like life is short so we might as well enjoy what we can. For me it's like an emotional free-for-all and I never know which way it's going to go until the date approaches. Last year it was overwhelming and scary.
But for some reason this year, it's almost a beautiful experience. I know that sounds weird, but it's the best way I can explain it.
I'm sitting on my back porch with the most heavenly breeze, sipping a beer, and watching the hummingbirds dart around the feeders my mom bought for my kids last week. They look so busy, so manic, which is amazing to watch and makes me appreciate the calm I feel. The calm I've been hoping for in years past that has somehow illuded me.
This is my yearly "hump day" - the day between the anniversary of his death and my wedding anniversary, which is tomorrow. Seventeen years ago today, I was exhausted from my bachelorette party and looking forward to becoming a wife.
Life is weird.
I can't help but feel gratitude today (which in some ways is even weirder). Grateful for all that life has given me, even in the wake of all that it's taken away. Grateful for a minute of peace to just read my book (Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg - not heavy, but perfect for my mood). Grateful for the people in my life that - again, weird as it sounds - death provided and showed me how to appreciate.
And most of all...grateful that I was smart enough to say "I do" to a great man almost seventeen years ago when my skin was better and squeezing myself into a wedding dress wasn't the task it would be now.
Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com 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.