Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Imperfect Perfection

I've made no secret of the fact that I've been dealing with some tough issues lately.  In truth, I'm sure they've always been there, but I've been convincing myself these last couple of years that I didn't have time to deal with them.

And then I got to the point where I didn't have a choice.

I've been seeing someone lately who is trained to deal with anxiety and I'll be completely honest...these sessions have been harder than anything else I've done before.  I sit in her office and cry from the moment I walk in to the moment I walk out, I leave feeling raw and exposed (but also like I know I'm progressing because I feel that way), I'm cranky with my kids in the hours that follow, and I'm exhausted the next day.

In the last few weeks, I've admitted things that I fear, where I feel I'm falling short, and how I basically beat myself up constantly for things that have happened in the past and things that I'm worried I won't be able to accomplish in the future.  As most of you know...saying these things out loud is almost harder than thinking them because when they're vocalized, they become the truth in a way - even if it's only your own version of the truth.

This new therapist I'm seeing is meeting my grief and me for the first time.  We decided during the first session that she would not read my book - something that felt freeing to me because every time I go into her office I feel like she has no preconceived ideas about me, how I've coped, and what I've been through.  And yesterday, she asked me to talk about my husband.

I told her the usual:  How he was smart, funny, and the guy who would always come up with the idea, but never get caught.  How hard he worked, how we were such great partners in the way we parented, and how responsible I've felt for everything and everyone in my life since the moment I had to make the decision to let him go.

"But we didn't have the perfect marriage.  Who does?" I said, shrugging my shoulders as if to say it was no big deal.

"What do you mean 'you didn't have the perfect marriage'?"

"I mean, we fought, we had some hard times, and there were moments when I wondered if we would actually make it," I said.

"But what if those imperfections actually made up the perfect marriage?" she asked.

And as I let that thought sink in, I began to cry again.

Damn.  I had it so good.  And maybe there was a part of me that didn't even realize it.

Because I was too focused on what I thought perfection should look like.


This last week has been hard in other ways, too.  

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy who I was certain wasn't The One, but who I had a good time with for the first time in years.  Dating, lately, has become such a chore for me that I really don't do it at all.  It takes all of the patience and time I have to take care of the kids and myself that I really don't have time for it and, truthfully, I haven't missed the headaches that come with it.

Since the book was released, I've wanted to focus on this time in my life.  I've recognized that this is a huge transition for me, not just professionally, but mentally because I had concentrated so long on what I thought would be the outcome of finally publishing something that I forgot to think about what comes next.  And that has left me feeling a little adrift (and anxious).

But I took a chance, went out to lunch, and had a great time.  In truth, it made me feel better because I thought even if this guy wasn't my soulmate, he changed something in me that I had been fearing for a while - that I'm so shut down when it comes to personal relationships, romance may not be in my future, mainly because of me and how I've become so jaded from previous experiences.  And I've struggled with the fact that at the age of almost 38, I may be looking at a life alone.

"I had fun!" I exclaimed to my mother after the date.  "It's still possible!"

What followed was a few more dates and, again, I didn't think this was "it" but those outings just made me feel better about myself and the possibilities.  Until the other shoe dropped and I was treated more cruelly than I think I ever have been in my life.

The new world I envisioned suddenly fizzled and the old walls came back up, taller and stronger than ever before.  In the last couple of days, I have struggled with every insecurity I have about myself, all of them magnified to the point where that's all I can see.  This morning, I sat with my tea, my eyes red, puffy, and raw from crying, trying to make a plan to better myself...something I haven't done since those months following Brad's death.

As some of you read in the book, after Brad died I went through months of extreme weight loss and personal transition, trying to mold myself into the image of what I thought someone else would want.  Completely insecure about who I was and the new, horrific life I was living, I felt sure that if I could make myself attractive to someone else, all of my problems would go away.

But the past couple of years, I haven't really cared much about that.  I've taken on more of the attitude, "There is someone out there who will really love who I am and if they don't...won't it be too exhausting to be someone else for the rest of my life?"  I have found security in my work, my social life, and was for the most part proud of who I had become.

And then I had this stranger come and tear all of that away in a matter of weeks.

So, as I sat drinking my tea and making my plan, my therapist's words came back to me.

"What if those imperfections are what make everything perfect?"

And then I decided to sit down and write this blog.

I am completely and utterly imperfect.  I have fears, doubts, and rolls around my mid-section that I don't want, but I've come to accept as a part of me.  I can be over-sensitive, I have moments when I judge others and shouldn't, and there are days when I'd rather watch a Law & Order marathon than drag my ass to the gym.

I am the most imperfect person I can possibly imagine.

But that just might make up what is the most perfect me. 

This will all take me a little while to digest - finding a new truth usually does.  But I'll get there.  I'll allow myself this time to grieve this new element of my relationship with Brad that, seven years after his death, I've just discovered.  I will allow myself to wallow a little in the new hurt before I truly digest that it really doesn't have any bearing on who I actually am.  I may even see myself letting those walls soften and dissipate to the point where I can fathom trying to get out and meet someone new.

This is a time of acceptance for me.  I have to allow myself the time and space to recognize that life  
has not turned out the way I thought it would - not by a long shot.  Only then will I be able to figure out my next step.  And I know, as I write this blog, that I am not the only person out there who is struggling with these issues, who has doubts about where they are going, and is scared of the unknown.  I'm not the only one who looks at her life and wonders, "What the hell happened?"

I'm not the only one who, at the age of almost 38, might be meeting her true, honest, perfect self for the first time.

Check out the Widow Chick blog during the week of 
May 19th for MORE CONFESSIONS - a series of Q&As
 with some of the people you all met in 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Does Your Husband's Headstone Look Better Than My Husband's?

A couple of weeks ago, my good friend Margaret asked a question on the Widow Chick Facebook page that I loved.

Why do we put decorations at the grave of our spouse (and in my case also the grave of my son)?  Is it to make that headstone look less lonely or make it look softer?  Is it for me, to make me feel I'm doing what should be done because not many people visit them?  Any thoughts?

Ha.  "Any thoughts."  Geez, Margaret.  You should know me well enough by now that I always have thoughts.  They might be kind of screwy, but they're there.

I think the whole grave thing is pretty personal and I sure hope that no one out there is judging me on how often I go visit Brad's.  I mean, I lost my cemetery punch card around year two, so there's really no way of knowing how often I've gone.  I picked a cemetery that doesn't even really allow decorations at the headstones, so I could be going every day or not at all, as far as anyone else knows.  So far, Brad hasn't tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey.  You haven't poured a beer over me in a while.  What gives?"

So, if you're judging my widowness on how often I visit my husband's grave...you're about to be disappointed.

I don't go that often.  I really don't.  His grave is about an hour and a half away, in a beautiful spot in the mountains and if you're wondering why I chose to put him there, rather than some place more convenient, I'll tell you.

It's so we don't have to go all of the time.

I feel like if we had buried him right here in our own backyard (not literally - I don't think I could have gotten HOA approval on that one), then that's where the kids and I would constantly feel we had to go on anniversaries or his birthday.  But we don't.  We have a family meeting every time an important date is coming and I say, "Where do you guys want to go to remember Dad?" and their answers vary every time.

But it has crossed my mind to worry (because I worry about everything) if people think that we don't care because we don't stand at his grave for every milestone we pass. And if you are one of those people who walk by his grave - plain and undecorated - and think that the reason it isn't covered in wreaths and flowers is because we don't care...let me set your mind at ease.

I think of my husband throughout my entire day.  I think of him when I wake up.  I think of him before I fall asleep.  I think of him when my basement floods, when I'm mowing my lawn, and when I'm struggling over math homework with my kids.  I think of him when I'm laughing with friends, when I'm having a beer, and when I've grilled a great pork chop (especially when I'm doing all three at the same time).

He is a part of me.  And that's pretty hard to forget.

I think it's wonderful that people find their own ways to remember their loved ones.  It's almost like a form of self-expression, isn't it?  But in no way is it the same for us all.  And, as with everything that has to do with widowhood, there is no right way to do it.

Many people don't know this, but on the first anniversary of my husband's death, I didn't go to the cemetery.  You see, I felt like the cemetery was my choice and while I do feel like Brad would approve, it wasn't like I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that that was where he wanted to be.  So, in many ways, I feel like the whole burial and grave thing was for us...not necessarily for him.

So, where did I go on that first anniversary?

I went to the corner of the road where he had his accident.  And I cried.

I couldn't figure out for a while why I chose that spot.  It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  But then I realized that that's because that was the last spot he was truly him, enjoying a beautiful summer ride down to work, probably looking at Pike's Peak...before life changed in an instant.  And that's how I wanted to remember him - as he was in those last moments.

I don't have a memorial marker down there.  I don't feel like anyone else has to know that that's where he was.  It's kind of my spot, for my reasons, and that's good enough.

So, in answer to your question, Margaret...I'd like to think that the reason why we decorate those graves is because it brings us some comfort.  I'd hate to think that it's because we feel like someone else is judging us if we're not there on every important date.  And I don't believe a plain headstone means that someone isn't missing the person who is gone.

I think they're just remembering them in their own way.

Check out the Widow Chick blog during the week of 
May 19th for MORE CONFESSIONS - a series of Q&As
 with some of the people you all met in 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Normal is the New Crazy

I don't know if anyone else does this but me, but sometimes I think about my beginning weeks, months, and years as a widow and remember it almost like it happened to someone else.

Was that really me who got up and took care of three small children?  Who stripped her entire bedroom of wallpaper just weeks after her husband died?  Who worked out nonstop and lost about thirty pounds in two months?

Surely not.

I think that's why, when people say to me, "I don't know how you did it," I can honestly look at them and say with some surprise, "I don't know how I did either."

Because sometimes I really don't think that was me.  That was a more put-together widow.  Because this chick wouldn't mind staying in bed all day or only using her gym membership for the hot tub.

I got a phone call from a neighbor and close friend this morning who tearfully informed me that one of her close friends had just lost her husband.  The message was left at 12:30 AM and I didn't get it until 7:00 AM, but it was obvious that my friend is heartbroken and, therefore, so am I.

To be honest, when I hear news like this, I'm less sad about the person who is gone and more upset knowing what someone is getting ready to go through.  That may not make sense to some of you, but there you have it.

I don't know why, but after hearing the news this morning, I started remembering things I had totally forgotten about.  I know I mentioned in Confessions of a Mediocre Widow my odd train of thought when my mother was driving me home from the hospital after Brad died...how I wondered if anyone had taken my daughter to ballet or if anyone had taken all three kids to the park recently.  Just little things like that. 

But this morning I started remembering all of the weird things I did right after he died - because they were so normal.  And by acting so normal, I wonder if I seemed slightly crazy to everyone else.

Like keeping my dentist appointment the week after Brad died and telling my hygienist before she started cleaning my teeth, "I know Brad has an appointment next week, but he died, so could you cancel it?"

Going to my hairdresser less than a month after he died and saying, "My husband died so I need highlights."

I mean, how weird is that?

And then I thought about something I had totally forgotten:  how I had called the teenager at the swimming pool the day after he died who had been giving my daughter lessons and said, "I don't think Haley will be in this week.  Her dad died."

This all seemed so normal at the time, but when I think back on it, I can't believe how together I was!  These days, I'm more likely to forget someone has a lesson and we miss it altogether, I'm overdue for my dentist appointment and I'm really not worried about it, and don't even get me started on my hair.

Who would have thought that the shock of a dead husband was what it would take for me to get shit done?

Actually, I don't know if that's true.  I think my shock was somewhat delayed.  When I look back on the last 6 1/2 years, I really think that the shock came about three years in - I don't think I was all that shocked in the moment.  Or maybe I was TOO shocked to really know how shocked I was.

I don't if it was denial or just an overwhelming determination that life would go on that had me acting so normal in the face of insanity.  All I know is that I look back on that time in my life and wonder, "Who in the hell was that?"


I actually told my therapist the other day how I kind of miss that new widow.

Now, that sounds crazy (that's why I can say these things to my therapist - crazy is a given), but it's a little bit true.  Yes, that new widow had just had her life blown apart and didn't recognize any of the pieces that were left.  But in the midst of her insanity, she was so positive that somehow she would build her life even better than it was before.  She looked at the mountain of life before her - the kids, the house, relationships - and just knew that she could conquer them all.

As I said in the book, I've always felt I've grieved backwards (thus, the mediocre widow part) because it wasn't then that I questioned if I could build the life I wanted...it's now.  I think there is a place I thought I would be by now and to be honest...I'm not.  

Some things have gone better than I thought they would, others not so much.  I think one of the reasons I was so manic, trying to change my life all those years ago, was so that I would be more settled now.  And in many ways, that hasn't happened.

I'm not sure, but I think there was a moment around year two when I decided veer off what I thought was my chosen path.  The other way would have been easier, I think, because I would have been able to slide right into another version of my old life - living my comfortable suburban existence with someone who was willing to take care of me so I didn't have to depend solely on myself anymore.

But in a split second, I decided I didn't want that.  I wanted to try something else.  And it was probably in that moment that I truly became a different person.

Now, I can see my life for what it is.  I'm no longer that new widow who was determined to immediately "fix" her life and who could see the result of all of that manic hard work as some sort of happy ending.  I know now that there is no "end result."  There is life.  And that determination comes in fits and spurts separated by...well...living.

I'm figuring out that there is no way for me to envision what life will be like in a year, two years, ten.  Sure, it's okay to have goals, but that "new widow" way of thinking (I will be remarried, have a job, my kids will be 100% happy because I will make it so) is pretty unrealistic.

And it's okay that I chose a path I never thought I would.  Even if I have no idea where it's leading.