Monday, July 28, 2014

Let's Play Pretend

I had forgotten they were in there.  Actually, I had forgotten that I had them at all.

Last night, as my parents and I were rushing around, trying to save and dry what we could after yet another basement flood (in a different spot this time), my mother came across an old laundry bag filled with stuff.  I’d known it was there, of course, and I knew that it had some old clothes in it – some mine, some my husband’s – but it had been stuffed in a corner, only to be soaked in water some ten years after I’d put it there when we moved into this house.

It was one of those things I had been putting off going through all of these years.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why my garage and my storage area are always disaster areas is because every time I try to clean them out, it’s like a minefield of memories.

And so I avoid doing it as much as I can.

“I just want to warn you,” my mother said as we rushed around last night, “that there was a lot of Brad’s stuff in that bag.  I’ve laid it all out on the front porch so it can dry out and I’ve put some stuff in the washing machine.”

“Okay,” I said and then quickly moved on to the million things that needed to be done in that moment.

This morning I woke up to piles of laundry around my bed, the result of being gone with the kids for a week to my grandmother’s funeral in Louisiana.  Exhausted, I hauled myself to my feet to start a load.  And when I opened my dryer, it was like a time capsule.

I pulled out at least eight pairs of my husband’s old military socks and two sets of camouflage uniforms.  I did it slowly, almost savoring the moment, allowing myself the brief fantasy that this was real – that I was really doing his laundry.  I ran my fingers over the badges that had been sewed onto the shirt and then hugged it to my body, willing the empty shell to fill with the form I’ve missed holding onto for so long.

Never before have I enjoyed folding clothes so much.  I carefully creased his pants, pretending that I was putting them away to iron later (which was kind of silly because he always did his own ironing).  I paired his socks like I was about to put them back in the drawer in the closet that became mine seven years ago.  I closed my eyes for just a moment.

 And I pretended I was living a different life.


I don’t do that often.  I’m firmly entrenched in the life I have going on right now.  And it’s a good one.  

 But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments – split seconds really – where I allow myself the fantasy that things are different.  And by that I mean, that things had never changed.

There are times when I’m in my car and I pretend Brad is home waiting for me.  Or I’ll have a conversation in my head because I’d like to think I’d know what joke he would make about some situation or pretend that he’s providing a voice of reason when I need it the most.  It’s not often, but it happens.

It’s just never been so tangible before – like I’m actually holding time in my hands.  I swear that if it didn’t mean adding to all of the laundry I already have to do, I’d start washing some of his old clothes all over again.  I’m envisioning writing “play pretend” on my calendar every Friday at 2 PM when I’ll go up to my laundry area and fold those just-from-the dryer-clothes over and over.

And just be in that moment.  


When I’ve talked to groups about my book, many times the people I’m talking to aren’t actually widows.  Sometimes people will say to me in surprise, “I really enjoyed your book” almost as if they don’t understand why because they’ve never lost a spouse.

I always explain to them that the reason why they enjoyed it is because they actually do relate to it – that not one of us is probably living the life we pictured we would when we were young.  Things happen that shape us into who we are and many times experience comes from situations beyond our control.

I think of so many of my friends who have gone through changes in life or have dealt with things they wish they could change but they can’t and I wonder if they have those moments when they pretend, too.  Maybe it’s not a “laundry moment” but something else that catches them by surprise and allows them that brief moment of escape.

It can’t last forever, this pretend game. Otherwise men in white coats might come take you away.  And, really – it wouldn’t be as special if it did.

It’s just that second.  When you take a deep breath all the way down to the bottom of your lungs and close your eyes, holding onto that moment and the overall feeling that comes over you that’s almost impossible to explain.  It’s like coming home for a second, this flash of elation and recognition. 

It’s more powerful than a wish…because in that moment it’s real.

Then you open your eyes.

And breathe this life in again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Everything Happens for a Reason

If you're anything like me, you gave this title a big eye roll when you read it.

I would say that of all the things most widows hate to hear, "everything happens for a reason" has to rank somewhere in the top five - somewhere in between "I know how you feel because I remember how sad I was when my dog died" and "when are you going to get over this."

In fact, I would venture to guess that most people going through a difficult time, no matter what it is, really don't like hearing it.  Which makes me wonder why we say it or even why we think it.

So, I was at yoga this morning, upside down in a position I wasn't all that fond of and all of the blood was rushing to my head.  And for some reason, I started thinking about this (even though I really wasn't supposed to be thinking about anything at all - baaaad little meditator) and pondering this statement.  And I realized something.

We really only think "everything happens for a reason" during difficult times.

I mean, really.  When was the last time you won the lottery and thought, "Well.  I guess everything happens for a reason"?  (That could be a bad example, but you know what I mean.)  My guess is you don't.  When you're on one of life's upswings, you don't question just ride the wave.  It's when life tries us and we're mired down in the gutter of circumstance that we wonder why in the hell it's happening.

So, as I was upside down, blood rushing, and hoping that everyone else looked as dopey as I'm sure I did in my version of downward-dog-with-a-hangover...I did some thinking.

Now, I know for me the phrase "everything happens for a reason" can sometimes be comforting.  Not because I think I've deserved any of the bad things that have happened in my life (anymore than anyone else does), but sometimes it makes me wonder if there is a plan.  If I really allow myself to think about that concept, it sometimes allows me to relinquish a little of the control I try so desperately to have over my life and for a moment just shrug my shoulders and say, "Eh.  Shit happens."

But the next logical question, if we choose to in any way believe that phrase is, "Okay.  So what's the reason?"

And that's where we almost always get stumped.

But maybe there's a reason for that, too.

I don't think we're actually meant to know the reason at all.  I don't think we're supposed to have the answers as to why good or bad things happen.  I think the whole damn point of that phrase is the questioning...the attempt to connect the dots in our lives so that we can move forward, knowing ourselves just a little bit better.

And just as it's not about knowing the reason, it's more about the question, sometimes it's not about the outcome.  It's the process that matters.

We all go through these growing pains...moments in our lives when we've hit a certain bottom and wonder why.  I know I have.  I've found what usually happens is that I'm forced to go inward and ask the questions that are necessary to get me out of whatever place I've found myself in.  The funny thing is that when I've climbed back out, I'm usually distracted by the fact that life has evened out again and I forget to keep questioning and looking for the reason.

Until I'm on a downward path once more.

So, I guess I do think everything happens for a reason and that reason is the human experience, the questioning, and the process of becoming the next version of yourself.

And sometimes we have to let go of why.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Floating Through Life Without a Purpose?

I've been feeling pretty rudderless lately.  Kind of like I'm floating through life without much of a purpose.

I know that sounds depressing and maybe it is.  But I think most of us go through these lulls.  So most of us know how hard it is to get out of them.

The hard thing is that feeling rudderless makes it hard to figure out why you feel this way.  If you're just floating without a destination it's hard to focus on the reason why you're suddenly in this situation.

In my case, I don't think it's depression.  I don't even really think it's the anxiety that's thrown me for a loop lately.  I actually think it's lack of inspiration.

"I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing anymore," I confessed to a business coach over club sandwiches one day.  "I used to be so tunnel-visioned.  I could see everything stretch out before me and I just knew I was going to accomplish those goals.  Now...I have no idea where I'm going."

"Of course you don't," she said as she took a bite.  "You were inspired then and you're not now.  And that makes everything you used to love to do become a chore."

It was true, I realized.  I had gotten to the point where I was just slogging through my days.  I didn't wake up each morning, ready to take on the world.  I woke up each morning feeling like deciding on breakfast was too much of a pain in the ass so I just wouldn't have any.  I didn't check my email, positive that something amazing was about to happen - I opened it up because if my mother didn't hear from me for a few days she'd call my neighbor and make her come over and see if I was still around. 

I had no energy.  No plan.  No inspiration.

I know I'm not the only one because since that discussion, I've had several people tell me the same thing.  In fact, the same day I had the meeting with the business coach, I was getting my eyebrows waxed and my esthetician and I started talking about being in a lull.

"So, how are you?" I asked her.

"Eh," she said.  "I don't know what's wrong with me.  There's nothing bad going on in my life, but I'm just feeling...I don't know...."

"I know," I said and winced as she pulled the hot wax from my brow.  "You're not inspired."

She stopped with her hand above my face and stared at me.  "You know what?  That's it.  Awhile back I took some life classes and I loved them and felt like I could take on the world.  I quit taking them and now I just don't have any idea what I'm doing."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said.

And I do.


But here's the problem with inspiration:  You can't really go looking for it.  Because the more you seek it, the less likely you are to find it.

You just have to be open to it, which is an entirely different thing.  And it usually doesn't come at you directly - it comes to you in a roundabout way.

Take me for example.  One day I just had an idea that I would volunteer for the Donor Alliance.  Now, that is a worthy cause and something I am passionate about, but it wasn't the inspiration I needed - it was just the catalyst to get me there (I just didn't know it).  From that point, I started  doing more public speaking, came up with the idea for the blog, the book and the website...and for about three years I felt like I could accomplish anything.

I wasn't really looking for the inspiration because I didn't know I needed it.  I was at a point in my life, right after my Brad died, where I was so completely rudderless, I didn't even know how rudderless I was.  But the flip side to that was that I was open to anything and when you're that open...chances are something will happen.

And it did.  And it changed my life.

But here I am again.  In a lull.  Rudderless.  Life has changed for me again in ways that I didn't see coming and now I find myself peeking around corners to see if inspiration is there, but trying not to be too obvious about it in case I scare it off.

I've realized that during those years when I was so tunnel-visioned, I had in some ways completely closed myself off to new inspiration because I was constantly on the move, unwilling to stand still.  And so it was somewhat inevitable that I would find myself in this place, at a crossroads, so completely unsure about life that I don't even know where to start making decisions.  I don't even know what the choices are.

Kind of like I was after Brad died.

And now I have no choice but to just be.

And let it come when it will.