Friday, April 30, 2010

I Got This

We’ve all been faced with things we don’t know how to do. It happens to everyone throughout our entire lives. The thing is that once you’ve been married for awhile, you tend to develop roles within your marriage. Like, I cleaned the bathrooms while my husband worked on the car. I made the hot cocoa for the kids while he blew out the snow on the driveway. I got him a beer while he accidentally made beef jerky on the grill.

I know it all sounds very June Cleaver, but what can I say?

Once that person who filled half the roles in your life is suddenly gone, it’s hard to tackle those tasks. But I’m here to tell you that once you start trying, there is a certain sense of empowerment that goes along with getting the man work done.

Take mowing. I had never mowed a lawn before in my life before my husband died. Never even started the damn thing. In fact, in my family, female mowing was frowned upon, especially by my grandmother. I don’t know why, but she seemed to take it as a personal offense every time she would see some woman outside sweating it out with her mower. She used to say, “I just want to get out of the car and smack her!”

So as you can imagine, I was brought up not knowing the first thing about lawn maintenance.

I don’t know about you, but after my husband died, I went through a phase where I just wanted to be able to do everything he did. I really wanted to try and fill his shoes in every possible way. I wanted to learn how to change my oil, put an entire lift kit on a Jeep, and be on a first name basis with every tool in my garage. And I thought the best way to get myself on the path to Manland was to learn how to mow.

So, at the age of 31, I ended up in my backyard with my dad giving me my first lesson on mowing. I’m sure it was a thrill for him, since he raised 2 girls, to finally be able to teach this to someone. Actually, now that I think back on it, he may have been a little nervous about me taking on this chore because he must have asked me 5 times, “Are you sure you don’t want to call a service?”

My mother tried to talk me out of it by convincing me that by mowing my own lawn, I was putting my kids in danger. She would say, “What happens if you run over a rock and it goes flying out of the mower?”

I have heard of these accidents and I don’t doubt that they happen. But I’m thinking my chances are pretty slim that my kids are going to die from a flying mower rock. As I later learned, I was in more danger of knocking myself unconscious on a tree branch I didn’t see because of my hat and sunglasses than injuring an innocent child. (Because of these incidents, my neighbors love to crack open a beer, sit on their porches, and watch me mow. Endless hours of summer entertainment.)

Anyway, after my dad taught me how to start the mower and get it moving, I felt this sense of euphoria. I could do this! I didn’t need a lawn service. I didn’t have to get married immediately because I couldn’t cut my own grass. I didn’t have to get suckered by the 10 year old down the street. I’m a modern woman…watch me mow!

And then it occurred to me. This is not that hard.

Ladies, if your husband has been selling you the line that you need to go clean the entire house because he has to go out and mow…I’m afraid I’m here to burst your bubble. ‘Cause what you do is pull a string and walk back and forth. And the best part about it is that it’s loud and you can’t hear a thing. Now that I’m a single mother, I look at mowing as a short vacation every Saturday from the screaming and tattling that’s going on inside my house.

But as empowering as walking behind a piece of machinery is, there is still a part of me that deep down considers this a man’s job. I still miss those golden Saturday afternoons when I was inside, working on the house, listening to the comforting sound of my husband mowing the lawn. So as my son watches me from the porch go back and forth and back and forth, I have only one thought that comes to mind.

Buddy…someday it’s going to be you out here.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

All the Single Ladies...Do We WANT To Put A Ring On It?

Ahhh…dating. Sooner or later this becomes every widow’s favorite topic with other widows. And there is a very good reason for this: Because we feel like it’s unacceptable to talk about it outside of the herd.

But I can guarantee you that, for most widows, it’s one of the first things we think about after our husbands die. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s human nature to wonder what comes next. And for those of us who suddenly find ourselves involuntarily single, we want to know: Am I supposed to start dating? When is it too soon to start dating? What will people say if I start dating? What will they say if I don’t?

It’s very natural to find a mate, settle down, and have kids in our twenties. That’s why hormones were invented and why birth control is not 100% effective. I often say that I miss the stupidity of my twenties when I really didn’t know what marriage meant. I just thought it would be fun to use one of those price guns at Target. I really didn’t think the whole thing through and it didn’t occur to me that by marrying my husband when I turned 20, there was a good chance that I would be with him for 70 years.

But fate is a tricky bitch and things didn’t quite turn out that way.

Now, in my 30s and having taken the vows once before, I know full well what it means to be married and smell the same gas, watch the same do-it-yourself shows, and wake up to the same morning breath (which means that he didn’t get up with the kids so that you could sleep in) every day for the rest of my life. So, forgive me if I pause before making that leap once again.

And dating isn’t as easy as it was in my twenties. I know I’m hitting the age where 49% of all the males I know will start to get divorced thereby flooding the market, but it’s still no picnic. They all come with kids, mortgages, and potentially crazy in-laws to deal with.

Now, funny enough to the male population, I seem to come with more baggage than they do. I’ve never quite understood that. Sure, I’m dealing with a loss, but I think widows and divorcees are pretty much tied in the bitterness and “it’s not fair” department. Believe me, it’s just as hard for me to accept you with your 3 children from 3 different wives as it is you to deal with me and my deceased husband. Let it go.

And now that I’m older, I’m pickier. I mean, in my twenties I was looking for a nice rear and a decent car. Now I’m grilling my potential dates on their benefits packages and the state of their health. ‘Cause let’s face it…I don’t want to lose another one.

And finally and most importantly…after you’ve been single for awhile and you start to understand that you can handle most things on your own, you start asking yourself, “Do I want to get married again?”

Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is great. But once you get used to sleeping right smack in the middle of your bed with no one to poke because he’s snoring so loud, it’s hard to go back. It would be nice to have someone to bounce the big decisions off of, but on the flip side, you don’t have to ask anyone their opinion on anything. You don’t have to shave. You don’t have to wonder when he’s going to notice that huge-ass dent in your car. If you gain 500 lbs. no one else is going to be irritated about that other than you.

Now, I know this sounds cynical and I really don’t mean for it to. But for those of us who got married in our twenties and had only the slightest taste of independence…well, that’s pretty hard to give up now. And the problem is that we’d be giving it up to start all over again. I mean, it took me 11 years to mold my husband into the man I knew he would want to be. And now, when I go out on a date, I can say within the first 20 minutes, “Nope. I don’t have the energy to train that one.” And then I go home and flop myself right smack in the middle of my bed with hairy legs and a box of chocolate.

Hey…it’s not perfect. But in my experience, Russell Stover has never snored.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Decision Making

Getting to the point where you can successfully make large decisions on your own after the loss of your spouse is a long road. I don't know if this is actually the case, but it seems like women who have lost their spouses have a harder time with this than men. I may be wrong, but it seems like the men are just ready to "make the decision" to get rid of the floral couch they've always hated, hang that large moose head above the fireplace, and finally put their beloved shot glass collection in a place of honor like they've always wanted to.

I'm just envisioning what my husband would be doing if the situation were reversed.

For me, after the dust settled, it seemed like the only thing I was able to decide on for months was what color to paint my toes. I think I'd only had one pedicure in my life before my husband died, but after he was gone, if I had a spare thirty minutes, you'd find me at the local nail salon contemplating the fifty bottles of OPI colors in front of me.

I think there are several good reasons for this: The first is that there is something comforting about sitting in a massage chair and getting your feet rubbed and buffed. The second is that you're sitting with someone who could care less about your personal life and you don't have to explain a damn thing to them as long as you tip well. And the third is...if you make a poor decision and your nails turn bright orange, you can come back tomorrow and get your decision reversed.

When I think about that time in my life, I'm pretty lucky that my nails did not just surrender and fall off.

And it wasn't like I didn't want to make decisions. I was in what I like to think of as my "manic confusion" phase. I could strip the wallpaper in my house, but I couldn't decide what color to paint it. I could decide to go back to work, but I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I missed having someone around to bounce all these big decisions off of and, truth be told, I missed having someone to argue with until I came to the right conclusion.

I spent the first couple of years constantly asking myself, "What would he do if he were here?" I constantly worried that if I did the wrong thing, he would be upset with me. How weird is that? I mean, even if it's true, hopefully I have at least another 50 years before I see him and surely he would have calmed down by then. But I couldn't help but wonder if he was a little irritated out there in the great beyond when I did something like...say...not bag the grass when I cut the lawn or let the organization in the garage go completely down the drain.

But when you get down to it, you can only do the best that you can do. Even though you don't want to be stuck in the position of Chief Decision Maker, there's really no way around it. And, frankly, no one judges you more harshly than your biggest Your husband's not mad. He's up there laughing at you because now he gets to sleep in as much as he wants while you work your tail off down here. And I can guarantee you that no one else gives a damn if you bag up your lawn or not. Considering what you've been through, your neighbors are probably pleasantly surprised you're doing it at all.

In conclusion, I'll leave you with these parting words of wisdom that will sustain you for the rest of your widowed days: If this advice doesn't make you feel better...go get a pedicure. I'm telling you, it works wonders.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We need a check on sanity in aisle 7....

I've often wondered, when I'm out buying groceries, how much people take notice of what's in my cart. Don't you? Like the time I walked through the line at Wal-Mart with a bag of potato chips, king-sized M&Ms, and a Diet Coke. Throw in a box of tampons and a gun from the sporting goods section and the woman checking me out probably would have put security on high alert.

If she was paying attention.

I'm most proud of myself on the days when it seems like all I'm buying are fruits, vegetables, and healthy protein. I'm dying to run into every person I know so that they can see what an amazing mother I am.

That never seems to happen.

I usually see my entire neighborhood when my kids have run out of all the"treats" they like and my cart contains every piece of red-dye-enriched-high-fructose-corn-syruped junk I can get my hands on.

I sometimes feel like being widowed makes you hypersensitive to what's in your to speak. We're constantly wondering what everyone is thinking about us. How we're doing. How we're coping. How it's possible we don't know notice how bad we smell because we've given up on showering.

But there is a philosophy that I have to constantly remind myself of, lest I become too preoccupied with what people think.

No one is thinking about it.

I don't mean that in a bad way. But like the checker at the grocery store, they have too much on their minds to worry about what's in your cart. We all, frankly, think we're more important than we actually are. We think that every move we make has made an irreversible lasting impression on every person we meet. When, in reality, like the checker at Wal-Mart, pretty much everyone we know has much more on their minds than the junk we just put on their conveyor belt.

This does not give you permission to go out and do whatever you want because no one will notice. I mean, you still have to be a little self-aware. Or, to use my analogy, don't be the person who leaves the raw chicken juice on the belt.

But let the little stuff go. Because most of the people you know are too preoccupied with their own potato chips and tampons to really notice the nutty stuff you've got going on.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Drive-By Cry

What is it about driving in your car that makes you tear up a little? For some reason, memories of my husband always sneak up on me when I'm sitting at a red light. I have other widow friends who have had the same problem.

Is it a song coming on the radio that you didn't even know meant something to you? Is it listening to all of your children call each other various "potty words" at the same time, making you feel overwhelmed? Or is it just thinking, "I could be taking a 2 minute catnap right now if my husband was still here to drive my happy ass around"?

I remember, right after my husband died, the craziest things would sneak up on me as I was driving. For example, there was a road near my house that had been closed due to expansion right before he passed away and for some odd reason he was obsessed about driving that road when it opened. (I have no idea why...must be a guy thing.) But, unfortunately, he didn't make it to see the grand reopening.

I'll never forget sitting at that intersection, bawling my eyes out when the "Road Closed" sign was taken down. I'm sure people passing me must have wondered why I was so completely touched by the fact that I could now go further West on Mainstreet.

Since he's been gone, any time I see anyone crying at an intersection. I just want to leap out of my car and give them a big hug. But these days, my leaping out of my car and running towards an upset stranger could be misunderstood as an attempted carjacking. So until the world becomes a more trusting place, I guess I'll keep my empathy to myself.

Sometimes I wish we all had one of those LED ticker tape signs on the backs of our cars that could explain to other drivers exactly what's going on. Wouldn't that be handy? Like, "Don't cut me off today. I'm PMSing and I cannot be held responsible for my actions." Or, "My 401K just sunk to an all time low so forgive me while I drive 20 mph in a 50 mph zone." And for all of us widows out there, "My husband died awhile back, so don't mind me while I sit in my minivan and have a small nervous breakdown."

I guess until the mobile ticker tape is invented, we all just have to remember everyone has something going on, whether it's cramps or death (which sometimes feels like the same thing). So, before you slam on the horn and give a stranger the one finger salute, think about what they might have on their sign.

© Catherine Tidd 2010

But I Don't WANNA!!!

It seems like daily, I am forced to think about issues that I don't want to deal with. I hate sounding like my 4 year old when she needs a nap, but when you're reading this, you may want to hear a little whiny voice in your head as the narrator. Just a suggestion.

Car issues. I cannot stand dealing with car issues. Starting from buying a car and dealing with the very annoying and sometimes sketchy car salesmen, right down to getting rid of the hunk of junk and everything in between. To be quite honest...I even hate it when I have to stop for gas.

I didn't sign up for this. Automobiles were my husband's job. He was the negotiator. He was the one who could do any kind of car maintenance, thereby saving us thousands of dollars a year. For crying out loud...he was the one who would take my car to get cleaned.

After 3 years of living in Widowdom, I have learned to assert myself a little better when it comes to these issues. I think I've almost developed a multiple personality when it comes to dealing with the automotive industry. I sound very knowledgeable even though the only thing I really know how to operate on a car is the radio. I no longer go into the typical woman cry when I know that I'm getting taken for a ride by some mechanic but can't do a damn thing about it. I've even, at the age of 34, gotten to the point where I don't call my dad to come with me every time I need to get my oil changed. And that has me a little proud of myself.

Because every time I tackle something new, even though it annoys me and makes me miss my husband even more, there's a sense of empowerment that comes with it. I'll get my car fixed and think, "Dangit! I can do this!"

It also helps a little that if I screw up, I don't have to tell anyone about it. Because no one else sees my checking account anymore but me and I no longer have someone here to say, "You paid how much for that?"

I'm not saying that's the best way to cope. I'm just trying to keep my glass half full.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010

Welcome to the Wide World of Widows

I don't know about you, but I spent a little while, after my husband died, trolling the Internet, looking for something, anything about young widows. And it was hard to find.

Actually, let me clarify that. There are a lot of things out there about becoming a young widow, but I was looking for a little less self-help and a little more, "You may think that you're going crazy and guess what? You are!"

I wasn't interested in reading professional literature from a PhD who had not lost anything more significant than a goldfish. I wanted to hear from one of my own. But I couldn't find it.

I guess it makes sense. I mean, most of us who have lost a spouse at a young age still probably have kids at home. We're young enough that our wacky in-laws are still alive, so that takes up extra time. And if that's not enough, we're still trying to decide whether or not to shower in the morning and that decision making process uses up a lot of energy.

Now, don't get me wrong. We young widows can accomplish a lot. We are constantly second guessing ourselves and the decisions we make the moment our spouses hit the dirt. I think we go through more self-scrutiny before our feet hit the floor in the morning than most people do in a lifetime. It's a gift.

So I know you are wondering who I am and why I might understand what you're going through. I'm almost 34 (yikes!) and I lost my husband 3 years ago. It was very sudden...he was involved in an accident on his way to work. When he died, my children were 5, 3, and 1.


For those of you who are now thinking I might sound a little like a bad country song...well...I won't argue with you. Throw in a box of cheap wine and an outdated wardrobe and I think I fit the profile.

In the 3 years since I've been at the widow game, I feel like I've heard it all, seen it all, and if I haven't experienced it I know someone who has. I've been through counseling, group counseling, kids counseling, and my fair share of mediums. I won't say that I'm an expert, but if there is such a thing as a professional widow, I think I've at least earned my amateur status. I'm hoping to make the "Widows on Ice" tour within the next year.

So, here I am. Writing this to commiserate with you, laugh with you, and just get through the next day with you. If you are not yet to the point where you can sometimes look at the surreal situation you now find yourself in and laugh, this may not be the right spot for you quite yet. But if you are remotely getting to where you think, "Did that just happen to me?" then stick around.

'Cause we've got some bloggin' to do.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010