Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mourning What We Should Be Mourning Together

Yesterday I had to go to Babies R Us to find a gift for a friend of mine who very selflessly got pregnant so that she could prove to all of us who are the same age that we're still young and fertile (that's not really why she got pregnant, but that's how I choose to look at it.  So thank you, Tiffany).

My initial thought when I parked my car and started walking toward the door was, "Lord, I hope no one asks me when I'm due.  I'd hate to tell them nine years ago."

Luckily, that didn't happen.  I think it was because I was wearing my skinny yoga pants yesterday and not my fat ones.

Anyway, as many of you have probably experienced, I had one of those gut-check moments that I wasn't expecting when I walked in the door.  I hadn't thought about it beforehand, but it had been years since I had been inside that store.  And I immediately started having flashbacks.

As I walked the aisles that were instantly familiar, I couldn't help but think about thirteen years earlier when Brad and I were there together, armed with a list of suggested registry items for our own little bundle of joy.

"Seven strollers?" he said in disbelief.  "Who in the hell would buy seven strollers for one kid?" 

"Huh?" I said, bending over to look at the breast pump that looked like some sort of torture device, positive that there was no way I was hooking that contraption up to one of the most sensitive parts of my body.

"What's this bathtub thing?" he went on, looking at the list.  "Don't we just bathe it in the sink?"

"I don't know," I said, moving on to the breast pads that some delighted-looking woman on the package was putting into her bra.  "What are these for?"

Of course, in the end we ended up with all seven strollers, not because we registered for them but because we had to buy them ourselves which made us wish we had registered for them (yes, you do need an umbrella stroller, regular stroller, jogging stroller, eventually a double jogging stroller and an extra regular stroller to put in the other car).  And I ended up not only hooking myself up to the torture device, but also giving it a little hug the first night I had pumped enough milk to go out to Happy Hour with my friends (thereby needing the breast pads).

The point is that in that moment, I so wished that I could go home and tell Brad all about it and remember that time with him.

One of the hardest realizations about widowhood that I had early on had to do with the kids.  I was going through one of their baby albums (actually it must have been my oldest because the other two don't have one) and thought, "No one is going to have those memories of early parenting except me.  I don't have anyone to talk to about when each of them was born and say, 'Remember when...?' and they'll know what I'm talking about."

I don't feel that way every day, but it does still hit me every once in a while.  This time, it was the excitement of it all, expecting our first baby, and remembering what a special time that was.

Whether Brad is here or not (he's not, by the way), I'd still be mourning the passing of that time, when little fingers curled around one of yours and you knew how to hold that tiny person just right because they were yours.  The difference is that I wish he could be here to feel nostalgic with me - to feel a little sad that that time in our lives is gone.

This is wishful thinking, of course.  Not just because he's gone but because in reality if I'd come home and said wistfully, "Remember when...?" he would have probably answered with, "Remember diapers?  Remember a car that was so sticky we decided to sell it rather than clean it?  Remember our kid throwing his pacifier across a crowded restaurant and beaning someone in the head with it?"

He'd be right, of course.  The blessing and the curse of life is that time never stands still.  The kids are older and two out of three of them are too big for my lap.  I can no longer cuddle up with them and give them a bottle (well, I guess I could but that would be weird), but they all know how to cut their own meat, which is a plus.  Our time together is different, but the best part is that now I have kids who are old enough to appreciate new memories with me.  

And now I know to never take for granted the moment when one of them says, "Hey, Mom.  Remember when we...?" so we can share it together.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Decision-Making Freak Out

Earlier this week I had a dream about my husband.  It doesn't happen often, but I've had a dream similar to this one before.  I'd just found out that my husband had actually been alive these long seven years (where he was, I don't know...had he been a CIA agent on assignment?  The possibilities are endless) and I'd just heard that he was coming home.

As we all know, when we have powerful dreams, we usually wake up holding on to some of the feelings we experienced in the dream.  For example:  I've been annoyed with a friend the next day because she pissed me off in my dream the night before or stressed the moment I've woken up and have had to remind myself that I did in fact graduate from high school, so I don't have to worry about final exams anymore.

Stuff like that.

So when I woke up from my dream this week, I groggily thought, "I should feel so happy.  I got to see Brad."  But instead, I found myself feeling....


In the dream, I was sitting on a bench, waiting for Brad to appear, petrified that he was going to go through the list of decisions I'd made since he'd been gone and disapprove of every one of them.  I sat there like a child, waiting to be punished.

Of course, I woke up before I found out what he thought about any of it.  But that's not the point. 

The point is that seven years into widowhood, there is still a part of me that doesn't trust myself.

In the beginning, the thought of being the sole decision maker did one of two things:  It either scared the shit out of me or empowered me, depending on the day.  The afternoon I picked out a new living room couch?  LOVED IT.  The day I started thinking about moving the family from the house we'd been in for ten years?  Hello, Fear.  

I've sat in hospitals alone with a child, wishing someone could be there to help me figure out what to do.  And I've made financial decisions, somewhat grateful that I don't have someone here to second guess me.

The thing is that with every decision, there is a piece of Brad.  Whether it's a "screw you, I like this paint color and you're not here to argue with me" or talking to him while I'm driving down the road and asking the empty car, "What would you do if you were here?" he always plays at least a small part in most of the decisions I make.

And I'm not sure I'm always happy about it.  

I wonder what it would be like to just make a decision without having that little widow voice inside my head saying, "What would he think if he was here?"

I wonder if I will ever know?

I finished a manuscript a few months ago - yet another "widow read" but this time it's fiction. In the book, a young woman has lost her husband and one night she wishes he could come back.  He ends up appearing in a way only she can see and helps her through a lot of her first big decisions as a new widow:  going through his clothes, going on her first date...things like that.

At one point, they're having a conversation where she's telling him how much she's missed talking to him and getting his point of view.  And this is what he says:

"I know," he said, looking at me sympathetically.  "I missed being able to talk back and forth with you, too.  But the point is, you knew me so well.  You knew me better than anyone else.  And because of that, there is a part of you that will always be able to talk to me.  And a part of you that will always be able to hear what I have to say."

I don't know why that made me feel better.  It was like I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she discovers that she's always had the power to go home.  That I would always have it in me to talk to Henry and have him with me gave me a small sense of comfort.

"But it's not the same," I said, sadly.  "It's not the same as asking you what you think about things or what you think I should do."

"I know it's not," he said.  "But in some ways, it really doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter what I think about you moving or whether you date or whether you buy a new car.  This is your life now.  It's yours.  And I don't ever want you to think for one moment that I ever doubted the way you lived it.  I didn't before and I never will."

This piece of the book happened during one of my euphoric moments as a writer:  When it just seemed to write itself and I was reading it as I went along.  I remember finishing this and leaning back and thinking, "Where did that come from?"  But like all writing, everything comes from somewhere deep inside you that you may not have even realized you were thinking.

Or, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz...that  you knew all along.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Do You Have the Courage it Takes to be Happy?

Once again, I feel that I'm on the verge of a big change.  Actually, I know I am.  And as I type this, I'm wondering why I'm even starting this blog this way because so many of my blogs begin like this.  Maybe I should just start making the blanket statement that life is just one big transition and leave it at that.

I've been thinking about what's ahead for me (mostly at about 3:00 AM) and trying not to get too nervous about it, but it's hard.  I see the end result and I know I'm making the right decisions.  And then I think of the months of work ahead to get there and I'm scared all over again.

Oh, well.  At least I'm getting my money's worth out of my anti-anxiety medication.

Lately I've been thinking about the times in my life when I've decided to make big changes (not the big changes that have been decided for me) and I've realized how much courage it's taken to do what I've done - there is a lot of bravery involved in following your heart.  In my case, I think it's because so many of those decisions have been made entirely on my own without a partner here to put in his two cents, but that's just a small part of what makes finding happiness so hard.

When we envision what we think will make us happy - a new relationship, a new job, a move - there is always a voice within us that I will name Lady Self-Doubt who just won't shut up.  She seems determined to keep us where we are (probably because she's lazy and doesn't want to do the work) and she's a hard force to ignore.  She seems bigger than us and for some reason we give her way too much credit when she probably doesn't know what the hell she's talking about.

I imagine her in my head sprawled out on a big chaise lounge, rolling her eyes at my every suggestion (and for some reason she's wearing a toga.  I don't know why).  She's such a bitch.

And then there are the external voices.  How many of us don't remember the many people who encouraged us to start dating...but could name the one person who said, "Are you sure you're ready?" How many of us can't name the group that championed our job switch, but remember the exact moment someone said, "Are you sure you really want to give up something stable to do that?" 

It takes a lot of guts to shut all of those people up (and maybe out) and follow our hearts.  It's isolating when you feel like you don't have support and, let's face it, we really want everyone's approval in what we do.  Oh, I know there are many of you out there who say they really don't care, but I think there is a little part in all of us that just wants the people we know to cheer us on whatever we do.

The problem is that we're all so different.  What makes one person happy doesn't speak to another and it's easy to judge and say, "Well, that's not what I would do."  And the worst part is it seems easier to listen to that than to someone who says, "Go for it!"

Why is that?

There are so many things in the world that we recognize as daring, but I think very few people realize that just the simple act of being happy, finding our bliss in some way, or just having the guts to make a change is sometimes the hardest thing of all.  There should be a Hallmark card out there that we can buy each other that just says, "Congratulations!  You're living your life!"

I guess we also need one to hand to the doubters (especially Lady Self-Doubt) that says, "I'm taking a step toward happiness.  And that might mean I'm stepping away from you."