Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too Much Information! Oh...Who Am I Kidding??

This is a completely random, unplanned (and I try to plan everything in my life) blog. But I think there’s something you should know about me.

I’m an incredibly oversensitive person.

This trait, that I have thought of as a curse most of my life, has somehow turned into something that is not so bad.

I was the youngest in the family who would cry when someone looked at her the wrong way. Who would pay attention to the tone someone used more than the words. Who knew when someone was happy or sad…and they didn’t have to say anything.

I want you to know that…because I’m the person you’re talking to.

With every story, every comment, I see myself in you. My husband may have died suddenly, but when you write that your spouse died battling cancer or an illness you just didn’t see coming…I put myself in your place. I think of the mere 3 days I spent in the hospital with my husband and I wonder if I would have had the strength to do what you did.

When you write about how your spouse decided to end their life…I think about the time I spent trying to pull my husband out of bouts of depression so low…I felt helpless and guilty. Wondering what I had done to make that happen.

When you write about how your life suddenly changed when you least expected it…I remember how mine did too. And I will say that 3 years later, my good days outweigh my bad…but the bad ones are still heavy

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how long we’ve “known”…death is still sudden.

I’m writing this because I just want you all to know how I feel when I read what you write. And believe me…I read it all.

I feel empowered…because I know you’re going through it with me. And on the days I’m low, there is always someone who picks me up.

I feel helpless…because if we’re all going through it together…why can’t we just all make it better now?

I feel hopeful…because every day I wake up and know that I have people who support me. They don’t know me…but they support me. And there are some days…that’s all I need to know.

I just wanted to tell you this because I don’t always respond to everything. But I read it all. I feel it all. And do you want to know why?

Because you’re doing the same for me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Watch Where You're Going!!!!!

Has anyone else other than me noticed that phase that all kids seem to go through when they charge, full steam ahead…looking backwards?

Surely I’m not the only one who has kids who have done this. This isn’t like the time I asked my friends if their kids all talked with a Brooklyn accent when they were two years old like mine did (yeah…I got some pretty weird looks then. But when don’t I?).

It seems like most kids go through this at some point. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why they stop. I mean, logic would say that they would stop the first time they ran head first into a wall. But I’ve witnessed this enough to know…that’s not the case. It seems like they have to bang into at least 4 things before they understand that this is clearly not the way to go.

Now, these 4 things could be spread out over a period of time. It’s not like the cut off point is when they’re 3. But for those of you out there who have toddlers…don’t worry. Very rarely have I seen a 16 year old who runs as fast as they can with their head turned the other way.

And if you have a 16 year old who does this…I would give that driver’s license a second thought.

You’re probably wondering why in the hell I thought of this today. (Either that, or my ramblings have caused you to click on Fashion Police by now )

But today, I noticed my 4 year old doing this. We were going into the gym (I know, I know…pick yourself up off the floor) and she started running as fast as possible towards the kids center…all the while looking the other way.

She just wanted to make sure that I was behind her.

Envisioning a bloody scene on the faux marble floors of my fitness center, I told her to stop. I knelt down and said, “If you run while you’re looking behind you, you can’t see what’s coming. I’m right here. Watch where you’re going.”

I know this is going to sound crazy, but the second that was out of my mouth, I thought, “Huh. What a concept.” And if I hadn’t been conserving all of my energy for the torture I was about to put myself through…I probably could have produced a lightbulb.

Later on, when I took the kids the park, I started reading “We Are Their Heaven” by Allison DuBois (of Medium fame). It’s an interesting book and I like some of her ideas. One of the things she said that struck me was:

“Of course, you’re going to have bad days from time to time, but if you make an effort to share a good day with those who’ve passed, they get to take part in your joy. Nothing makes them happier. Talk to those who have passed and laugh with them again….Love those you love enough to live for them.”

I love that idea. That our loved ones can still experience joy…through us. I mean it makes sense…they would hurt when we were hurting while they were here and laugh with us when things were good. Why should it be any different now?

I still have my moments. I know I always will. Bad days will come…and there’s not much I can do about that.

However, it occurred to me today that even if I run as fast as I can towards life while constantly looking backwards…I won’t get very far. I won’t see what’s coming…whether it’s something to dodge or something to embrace. It’s time that I look ahead a little more than I look behind. And it’s okay to glance behind myself every once in awhile. I’ll always want to take a peek and know that he’s still there, in my heart and my memory (and according to Allison…still sitting in his favorite chair).

But it’s time that I watch where I’m going. I want to start keeping my focus on what’s ahead.

And just glance into my heart sometimes when I’m not so sure.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Did Death Really Part You?

I have never been one to get emotional at weddings. The truth is…I’ve always been the one who comments to my sister about the tacky bridesmaids dresses (I can do that because mine weren’t so great). I’m always the first one at the open bar. And I’m the eagle-eye looking for the first pair of bare feet so that I can take my torturous shoes off too.

I, personally, had a great time at my wedding, but I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea what I was really getting into. I mean…who has any concept of what “forever” means when you’re 20 years old? At that age, “forever” means looking forward to the weekend and the party your neighbor is giving on Friday night.

“Til death do you part” is a huge concept and when you really think about it…it’ll scare the crap out of you. I think that’s why a lot of us get married so young…so we don’t really have it in us to digest this idea yet. Because…if I can be honest…the thought of sitting next to someone with a matching bed pan never entered my mind in my 20s.

My concept of marriage has completely changed, of course, since my husband died. I now know what that actually means and it terrifies me to think about doing it all over again. Now I know that it means sleepless nights while you watch someone you pray is not suffering. It means getting a phone call that in an instant will forever change how you look at the world. It means wondering for the rest of your life…how could this have happened?

Of course…it also means those random acts of happiness. It means looking at someone over breakfast, with their bedhead and bad breath, and knowing you wouldn’t want to be anyplace else. It means changing a 19 inch stranger's diaper (that came from the devil) and looking at your spouse, knowing that these moments are what memories are made of. It means having a 5 minute piece of your life when you feel truly happy.

So now…when I witness a marriage…I cry like a baby.

Every time I see someone getting married (and it doesn’t matter if it’s on Private Practice or in real life), I find myself tearing up and thinking, “Do they know what they’re doing???” “’Til death do you part’…people! That’s no bullshit.”

Or is it?

I guess physically it makes sense. If your spouse dies and you keep them just hanging around your house…well…that’s a new level of Hoarders. And one I think I might skip, thank you very much.

But I have a problem with the two ideas of the “death” and the “parting.”

I know it’s really not up to me to change what people a lot smarter than me wrote on…well…I couldn’t find the Copyright date. I mean, I get what they’re saying…that death may have physically separated us.

But it never parted us. And call me crazy…but it probably never will.

To be honest…I really don’t have a problem with that. Yes, I’ve taken my ring off…but I still feel connected to him. Yes, my life has moved forward…but I think he’s moving with me. And yes…I’ve dated. And when I even think about getting married again…it’s like I’m committing spiritual biligamy.

My husband’s always in my heart, telling me he supports me or sometimes questioning the decisions that I make. Just like when he was here.

The kids and I laugh when we talk about our memories with him and the funny things he did. Just like when he was here.

And I date a lot. Just like when he was here.

(Just kidding. I wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)

The truth is, we never really part from the people who come into our lives…late spouses, bad bosses, friends we always meant to keep in touch with…they’re all a part of us. Just as we will always be a part of them.

The important thing is to embrace it…and them. Acknowledge every experience and every person as a part of us and who we are. Don’t shy away from it. Run toward it all with open arms. Tell that inner part of you that it’s okay…you can move forward without moving away.

But you can still bash the bridesmaids’ dresses. I mean…what was the bride thinking???

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Thank You: New Rules About Thank You Notes After the Death of a Loved One

Good golly, my last 2 blogs have been heavy. It’s time to lighten things up a little. Or you know…as much as I can. Usually dead spouses are not where you find a little levity.
Until now!

I can’t remember who said what, but on my Facebook page, someone just mentioned something about a thank you note. And it really got me to thinking.

I know you love it when I do that. So brace yourself.

Now, I was brought up with a Southern mother who drummed into us the lesson that it doesn’t matter if someone gives you a diamond or a dandelion…thank you notes are a must. And for the most part, I completely agree. For whatever the gift or sentiment, the giver thought of you, took the time out of their day to give you something, and that action should be acknowledged.

Even now, with my kids as young as they are, I have them write their own thank you notes. And I even have them write them to each other after a birthday or holiday. We all know, that as the giver, it gives us a little smile to know that someone is enjoying the gift we gave them.


Immediately after the death of someone close to you, you’re either one of two things: You’re running around manically trying to get a million things done at once so you don’t have to think about what’s going on, OR you’re laying in your bed, trying your hardest not to move just in case the grief monster is in the room, notices you, and plans a sneak attack.

Either way, you’re really not up for calmly sitting down and writing a thank you note for the potted plant someone brought to the funeral or the ham you never had the appetite to eat. Because, in the grand scheme of things (and nothing gives us a glimpse into The Grand Scheme of Things like the death of a loved one)…compared to the size of your grief…is a thank you note really that important?

And don’t even get me started on the effort it takes to address the damn things.

When my husband died, a good family friend of mine was very forward-thinking and immediately set up a family fund at my bank so that people could contribute monetary gifts for the kids. This was a great idea. I personally didn’t get the checks (and, therefore, I didn’t lose the checks) and they were deposited in this account, safe and sound.


The bank didn’t really keep track of who sent the checks. Some of the employees kept the cards that came with them, some of them didn’t. So, I had no idea where half of those checks came from. Enter panicky feeling here. Because I didn’t know where to send the thank you note.

Really? My husband’s dead…and that’s what I’m worried about?

Now, I understand that part of the business end of the thank you note is just an acknowledgement that you’ve received the gift and that’s very important. But for me to be completely stressed out, 3 weeks after my husband died, about thank you notes…is a little ridiculous.

I know I’m not the only person this has happened to. About a year after he died, I was sitting with a new widow and the same thing had happened to her (with a different bank). She looked exhausted as she explained the effort she had put into trying to track down who had sent what. So that she could then research the person’s address and send them a 2 sentence thank you note acknowledging the gift.

Is it just me…or maybe she shouldn’t have had to worry about that when she was trying to figure out how she was going to raise a 2 year old daughter on her own after husband had died instantly in a plane crash?

THEREFORE (and you know this is going to be big since I put it in capital letters), I am starting a new movement that I hope will catch on.

Thank you notes are not necessary
after the death of a loved one.

For the gift giver…I have some suggestions:

• If you’ve sent a check and you’re worried about whether or not it made it…check your bank and see if the check cleared. If it did…we got it. THANK YOU.
• If you’ve ordered flowers and you want to make sure that they were at the funeral, ask someone who is attending (surely you must know somebody), and if they did…THANK YOU. (This also applies to ham, little mini rose plants, and that bottle of scotch, which believe me…we appreciated.)
• Know that any gift you have given…the gift of your time, your money, or your sympathy is greatly appreciated. And that just because you may not receive the actual thank you note in a timely manner, doesn’t mean we don’t know all that you have done for us. We’re just trying to walk and breathe at the same time. So putting pen to paper is not high on our list of priorities.

Since I have personally been through this, when I give someone a gift after a loss, I immediately say, “I don’t need a thank you note. I know you got it. I know it will be used. Take me off your list.”

Even better…one of the sympathy cards (and checks) I did personally receive had a note in it that said, “Don’t write me a thank you note. Take that time and do a puzzle with your kids.”

Now that’s a gift.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Life, Loss, and Lessons Learned

I took a risk this weekend.  I didn’t go cliff diving or climb Everest, but I did step out of my comfort zone for a couple of days.  And as we know, the older we get, the more doing something new some times seems like risky business.

I left for this writers retreat not knowing the instructor, not knowing anyone who was attending, and not really knowing where I was going.  Little did I know when I arrived how truly risky this could be.  To write, sometimes your innermost thoughts or things that you didn’t even know lived within you, and then read them to strangers is a little intimidating.  But my “risky” decision was rewarded by an amazing experience, life-changing people, and a new “happy place” to escape to in my memory.

As my instructor would say, “It was a delight.”

It’s funny how I didn’t even realize what I was doing when I was doing it.  It wasn’t until the ride home that I started to think that for the first time, in a long time, I had done something for me.  On my own. Something that served my interests.  With people whose meat I didn’t have to cut before they could eat.  And it felt damn good.

I highly recommend it.

Anyway, as many of you know, when you really buckle-down with your thoughts, it can lead to an intense experience.  I left the mountains today, feeling mentally exhausted, but also like I had achieved new things I never thought I could.

One of the many wonderful exercises my instructor had us do this weekend was to take the first sentence of a book she picked out and build a piece around it.  (For the life of me, I can’t remember the book this came from, but when I do I’ll be sure and post it.)

The first sentence, in quotes, is from the author.  The rest is my own.  I hope, as you read this, you will start to understand that no matter where I go, you all are always in my thoughts.

I dedicate this to you.

One day you finally knew what you had to do and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice.”  All it took was the ability to drown out those words with the deafening roar of your own perseverance.  This talent didn’t come easily.  It took time and practice, as anything worth doing well does.  But now you are the master of your own life.  The hero of your own story.  And everyone else is just an extra.

Getting to this point has been filled with struggle.  It’s not as if there is a class or a seminar that teaches the ability to take control of your own life.  The class is Life and the seminar that you didn’t know was required is Loss.  But your graduation gift is Joy with a card attached saying, “Best of luck you in your future endeavors.  Signed, Ownership.”

Those people around you, who are shouting their bad advice, have never taken the class.  They may have applied, but were never accepted.  It could be because their application essay was about how they would do better if they were in your shoes.  And since the class of Life doesn’t have an extra seat for Judgment, their application was denied.

I often wonder if those people offering advice will ever appreciate how full life can be.  Those people who have no room for Imperfection must also shut out Fulfillment because the two walk hand in hand.  Those who judge must also close their minds to the endless possibilities of life because with Possibility also comes Error.  They may never appreciate Beauty because they will also shelter themselves from the Pain that comes with it.

I realize that completing this class on Life and Loss was never something you had planned.  You received a full scholarship and had no choice but to attend.  But, as with any education, it is up to you to decide where you go from here and how this knowledge can be best applied.  And it is up to you to take what you have learned and inspire others.  Because everyone wishes to be their own true, authentic self.  And you are now an expert in that field.

So let them shout.  Let them advise.  Let the “experts” say what they think.  Because the truth is, you are the only expert in your life.  You have taken the class and you have done the work.  You have studied hard and pulled all-nighters to learn a subject that few people have even bought the books for.  To graduate, as yourself, with full honors is an important distinction. Your mind will be forever open to what can be.  Whether it’s joy, sorrow, beauty, or imperfection.  What a gift you have.

And now you are your own gift to the world.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Peaks and Valleys

Whew. What a day.

Today started on a really sad note. My beautiful Colorado morning was spent honoring the life of my best friend’s mom, Michelle, who, tragically, passed away from cancer this week. Since this is someone I’ve known since I was 5 years old, I experienced that familiar shock of grief as I sat on the pew with my parents, my sister, and my own little special guest, my 4 year old daughter.

My daughter was so good. She sat there and colored and every once in awhile took my hand and gave it a squeeze. She would glance at me with that old familiar gleam of trouble in her eye. And her presence reminded me that I was just a little older than her when I first met Michelle.

So hard to believe.

Ugh. Death. It makes me feel so small. Like I’ve been swallowed by something so much bigger than I am. It leaves me searching for answers and hope. And asking the old familiar question…why?

As I watched the new widower today, there were so many things that looked familiar. The hard swallowing and the look fear that once you start you just won’t be able to stop. The restless pacing. Standing at the cemetery wanting to be anywhere else than where you are.

After sticking around for awhile, sharing stories and tears, I had to leave. I had signed up for a writers retreat up in the mountains near Vail. Earlier this morning, it seemed kind of overwhelming to get myself packed, get the kids to school and ready for a fun weekend with the grandparents, and get myself downtown for the funeral.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.

But as I left the reception and started to make my way up the mountain, I found myself really grateful for the opportunity to just get away, be in a quiet room for a little while, and…well…write.

After all…that’s what I’m here for.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this far into the mountains. And it’s been even longer since I’ve been up here during the fall when the Aspens are at their peak. If you’ve never seen it before…it’s truly amazing. You can be driving along, minding your own business when suddenly you round a corner and the mountainside is so ablaze with color it makes your eyes hurt. The grasses are dry and changing for the upcoming season and are every color of yellow and burnt orange you can imagine.

I headed up the mountain, tissue box beside me and the Indigo Girls blaring away on the radio. At one point, about an hour into my drive, the mountains were so high on either side of me, I couldn’t even see the tops out of my side windows. There were no trees…the rock went straight up and looked hard and ominous. For a second, it made me feel a little claustrophobic. Kind of like I was being swallowed.

Kind of the way I’d been feeling all day.

And then suddenly, I rounded a corner and the valley opened before me and took my breath away. The sky was so beautiful and the clouds were perfect…straight lines of white streaked through the perfect blue. I thought that if I could lie on my back and just look straight up, I’d feel like I was under water. Like I was floating.

Beneath that perfect sky, the groves of Aspens were bright yellow and so vivid in contrast to the dark green pine. And as I kept driving I thought, “I wish I could take this moment, put it in my pocket, and whenever I felt like I needed to know the answer to ‘why’...I could experience this feeling all over again.”

But since I can’t do that, I’ll just have to remind myself that when I’m on the road and I’m so far down that I can’t see the peaks…the next breath-taking moment could be just around the next corner.

Indigo Girls: Watershed

Thought I knew my mind like the back of my hand,
The gold and the rainbow, but nothing panned out as I planned.

And they say only milk and honey's gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim cause the crossing is chilly and wide.

Twisted guardrail on the highway, broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone's tragedy how recklessly my time has been spent.

And they say that it's never too late, but you don't get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger

Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while.

Well there's always retrospect to light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh.

You start at the top, go full circle round, catch a breeze, take a spill
But ending up where I started again makes me wanna stand still.

Stepping on a crack, breaking up and looking back
Every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait.
Until every step you take becomes a twist of fate.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The Book Of Love Has Music In It"

(I borrowed that from Peter Gabriel.)

My husband and I were such opposites. We were the poster children for the saying “opposites attract.” He was math…I was reading. He was science…I was all about the arts. He was smart. I stood next to him.

We were meant to be.

In spite of our differences we seemed to understand each other. Or we made a pretty good stab at it. At any rate…we had a hell of a lot of fun together. Now that I think about it…it could have been because we never had any idea what the other person was talking about.

I think part of our success was that we both appreciated the strengths we each brought to the relationship and could explain things to the other person that they had no clue about. I could tell him why he was supposed to tear up during the opera. He could tell me why the shuttle exploded. I could tell him the hidden meaning behind the latest novel (that he hadn’t read) and he could explain the inner workings of a Pontiac GTA. He could say something really smart. And I could stand next to him.

Nothing makes a successful marriage like a good smile and nod combo.

The first time I realized how little we understood each other was our first Christmas together. It was a hellish event because we couldn’t go anywhere and we were on our own. My husband worked in the space program and had a launch right around the holidays. So (thank you, Air Force) we couldn’t go anywhere for a couple of months.

But as we all figure out, sooner or later, it’s those trying moments we actually remember the most. The first Christmas (or celebration) with no money when we’re looking at someone across a dried up baked turkey breast thinking, “I married who????”

I cried all day that year. But now I look back on it with great nostalgia.

One of the things I remember the most about that year was the gift my husband gave me. We had no money and were doing everything we could to make things work. He gave me several things that year…one of which was a ring that was nothing amazing yet something I will always treasure. But the gift I remember the most was a department store shirt box with a pile of piano sheet music in it.

My husband, the rocket scientist, had gone to a music store and picked out music for me. Even now I’m speechless when I think about this present. Mainly because it contained a bunch of music I didn’t have the talent to play.

But on that Christmas morning, when I opened that box, my husband led me to the piano, opened a copy of “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin and said, “Here. Play.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know about much about music…imagine what a piece of paper would look like if the composer sneezed ink all over it. And then imagine how you would feel if someone told you to play what he had sneezed.

I was lost. I had no idea even where to start with that music.

I can’t even tell you why I started thinking about that today. Maybe it was because my 4 year old was banging away at the piano tonight. Maybe it was because I was cursing the fact that my husband isn’t here to help my daughter with long division. Maybe it was because we were having one of those close moments as a family that I just wished with all my heart he could have been a part of.

But for some reason I started thinking about how lost I felt when he handed me that box. And I realized that I’ve felt that way for a long time. But instead of music, it’s as if someone handed me a box full of grief and said, “Here. Play.”

I guess I’ll just have to do what I did then.

I’ll take it one note at a time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Like Rascal Flatts..."Life Has Been Patiently Waiting For Me"

I have a bad habit of waiting for my life to begin.

You would think that, after going through what I’ve been through, I would be one of those people who would have living in the moment down pat. That I would be able to live each day to the fullest because I’ve had front row seats and witnessed how fragile life can be.

But I’m not. It takes serious effort and concentration on my part to live in the “now” instead of borrowing the trouble that could be waiting for me six months down the road. My main problem seems to be, when faced with a long-term problem, I think to myself, “When that’s over then my life will really start!”

Seriously. It’s a wonder I sleep at all.

This is really one of my least favorite things about myself…this inability to live in the present. What’s even more annoying about it is that I know I do it. I just don’t know how to fix it.

As with most things, I think I have my parents to blame for this personal flaw. I come from a very happy, very normal upbringing. Suburbia, parents are still together, very few major incidents to speak of.

I’m sure it’s quite obvious to you now why this has completely screwed me up.

My parents did an excellent job of parenting (and I appreciate it even more now that I am a parent) and both my sister and I turned out okay. Well, really she turned out better than I did, but I can live with that. (I had to put that in here because she’s my financial planner and has given me a smokin’ deal these last few years.)

I’m thinking that because of my uneventful upbringing, the last few years of emotional turmoil have made me feel a little bit like I’m waiting for things to calm down before I really dig in and live my life. Because “normal” for me was always…well…so damn normal. And since I have found myself suddenly adrift in the insanity that is widowhood, needless to say…I’ve been desperately looking for dry land.

I’m sure I’ve probably always been this way but the first time I really noticed it was right after my husband died. I somehow got it into my head that once I got through the first few months or past the one year mark, my life would suddenly start again. Things would calm down. People would stop looking at me with pity. And for some really odd reason, I had deluded myself into thinking that after the first year…people wouldn’t even see me as a widow anymore.

I know. What the hell was I thinking??

Part of my problem is that I’m not a procrastinator. I was always the one in college who had her essays done 3 days ahead of time. When my oil light goes on, I can’t sleep until I get it changed. Before I had kids, I was known to set a table a few days before a dinner party.

Well…you know. I could have had a napkin emergency or something and then where would I be???

So telling someone like me, “Give it time! Time heals!” just doesn’t work. Because when I found myself suddenly widowed, waiting for normal wasn’t something I was prepared to do. I don’t wait. I do.

(And as we all know by now…if what I’m holding out for is “normal” I better make myself comfortable. ‘Cause I got a long wait ahead of me.)

I’ve always solved the problem. I’ve always gotten on with things. And I’ve always done it way ahead of schedule with minimal complications. The messiness of life has really never applied to me until now.

I mean, think about it. My husband died when I was so young, I hadn’t really been exposed to how complicated things can get. My friends and I were (for the most part) too young to be taking part in the divorce revolution that seems to hit everyone in their mid 30s and 40s. Our kids were too young to be smoking pot (although I do sometimes have my worries about my 4 year old). I hadn’t even been married long enough for our first pet to die. So you could say I got thrown into the deep end of the pool on my first attempt at swimming in the complexities of life.

Since my husband’s been gone I’ve had the startling realization that I’m a grown up. And being a grown up means dealing with messes. Not just juice-spilled-on-the-floor messes. I mean, adult-like messes that can’t be corrected with the swipe of a paper towel.

I know that this “waiting for life to begin” is basically a habit I’ve acquired. Like nail-biting or smoking, I’m addicted to waiting for a life with minimal problems. Unfortunately, they don’t make a patch that helps you deal with complexities of reality as they come at you. I wish they did. I can’t help but feel like I waste a lot of valuable time, waiting for my life to begin.

Because, the truth is, I always look back after a few months and realize...

...I’ve been living my life all along.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weddings and Funerals: More Alike Than You Might Think

Has anyone else other than me noticed that there are frightening parallels between funerals and weddings?

(If you haven’t noticed this, you may think that my love of wine has finally burned off my last, useful brain cells. But stick with me.)

Now, this isn’t meant to be a punchline. I don’t mean that your wedding was the “death” of your single life or anything else my husband would be laughing about right now. I just mean that these two events are very closely related. Let’s examine the facts:

1. There are flowers
2. Everyone you know is there (and some people you don’t)
3. People bring cards with money in them
4. Your mother-in-law is dressed in black

Well…maybe that was just my wedding.

The main thing I’ve noticed is that, just as weddings are very rarely actually about the blissful couple, funerals are very rarely about the deceased. We all usually have (at both events) someone dictating how things should go. And most of the time, both events leave us thinking, “How did that flower arrangement end up there??? That’s the tackiest damn thing I’ve ever seen.”

Unless you were a “Bridezilla” who was able to tell off every relative you know, using your purple speaker phone, while weaving through traffic in a town of about 100 people, yelling every expletive you probably had at least one portion of your wedding that was influenced by the opinions of others.

(I’m embarrassed to say I’m addicted to that show. I really need to find a hobby.)

Maybe we need to come up with a “Widowzilla” show with someone who yells at people when they bring a sympathy card she’s already seen 15 times, throws a platter of supermarket fried chicken across the front yard, and tells her in-laws and distant relatives that if they don’t sing every word of the song she picked out for the funeral, they will no longer be a part of her family.

I think I’m onto something here.


How many of you actually did what you wanted for the funeral? Have you even thought of what that would be? I have. You know why? Because all of the funerals I’ve attended since my husband died have left me thinking, “Now, why didn’t I do that?”

Just like my wedding.

Why are we so damned polite? Why do we do things to appease other people when we, in our hearts, know what our spouses would actually want?

Because…unfortunately…funerals are not as much about the person who is gone as they are about the people who are left behind to deal with it.

Everyone thinks they know your spouse better than you do. That guy who used to ride tricycles with your husband when they were 5 years old? He’s got an opinion about this. Your in-laws, who were never as close to your wife as they would like to think? Here’s their 2 cents. The people who you are paying to run the show? They have a pretty good idea of what “needs” to be done.

Those of you who were the “Widowzillas”…frankly…I applaud you. I talk a good game now, 3 years after my husband passed, about what people should do when they’re losing a loved one. “Stand up to them!” I say. “Do what your spouse would have wanted!”

But the truth is (and this will sound not very "Widow Chick" of me)…sometimes it’s better to just let them have their say. Let the whole public memorial be about them. And then do what your spouse would have wanted you to do. In private.

Because…just like your wedding…your most intimate moment didn’t happen when everyone else was there. It happened when no one else was looking.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Life Goes On...Right???

Does anyone else remember the moment when they realized that life was still going to happen even though we thought it had come to a stand-still? I’ve had several moments like that, but I distinctly remember the first time it happened.

Not long after my husband’s death, my best friend called to tell me that she was pregnant. I was so happy for her…over the moon. But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that my best friend was going to have a baby. A whole new person. And my husband was never going to meet him. My friend’s son might hear stories and “know” him in an abstract way, but he would never be tickled by him. Never hear him laugh. That child would never get to see my husband act like a jackass with his own dad.

Really…he’s going to miss out on a lot.

I can’t tell you what a disturbing feeling that was for me. Actually, it still is a little. And it’s not that I’m so egocentric that I can’t believe the world doesn’t revolve around me and my needs (okay…maybe I am. But I’m working on it). It was just so unbelievable to me that new things would happen…that my husband would never see.

A lot of us have talked about the movie P.S I Love You (which if you haven’t seen it and you’re new to this journey…caution, caution, warning ahead…possible nervous breakdown inducer). One of the most memorable moments in that movie for me was when the widow was sitting in a little rowboat in Ireland with her 2 best friends. One of the friends lets it slip that she’s pregnant and the other blurts out that she’s engaged. I’ll never forget the crestfallen look on the widow’s face the moment she realizes that life was going to go on…even though she thought it had stopped.

At that point, that character kind of retreats from her friends. And her friends mistake that for her being selfish. But I can relate to that feeling. Knowing that life is going to go on for everyone else whether you like it or not is an overwhelming feeling. And having that moment when you realize you better get on the boat or it’s going to leave without you, is a hard thing to wrap your mind around.

It’s actually the little things that really hit me. Songs that I hear on the radio and think, “He never heard this one. I wonder if it would have gotten on his nerves?” He would never see Modern Family. Never get to meet all of the wonderful people I’ve met since he’s been gone.

One of the most confusing times I’ve had with this was when I started dating someone new…who I just knew my husband would like. How weird is that?? To be dating someone and think, “Awww shoot!  My husband will never meet him! They would have loved each other!”

Now that I think about it…the fact that this guy is dating his wife…that introduction probably wouldn’t have gone over so well.

I know everyone goes through this when they’re dealing with loss and no one knows about it until that day comes. And our friends aren’t being insensitive when they get on with their lives…they just don’t know.

But that time will come for everyone. That same friend who had the baby is now dealing with her mother who has terminal cancer. And one of the first things she said to me was, “My son will never really know her.” And I know that she’s starting to go through the motions of realizing that life will go on…whether she's ready for it or not.

I’m just glad that I can be there, cry with her, and say, “I know. I know.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Feels Like Home To Me

We all go through different stages in our lives. And all of those stages affect us differently. And how we deal with those stages shape the people we become.

For some reason tonight, I started thinking about when my husband and I were first married. I’ve already told you all that I got married at the ripe, old age of 20. What you don’t know is that I got married 3 weeks after I turned 20 because I refused to get married as a teenager.

Well. You know. The younger you are, the more 3 weeks makes a difference.


So, at the beginning of my marriage…we had no money. Like…I-felt-guilty-about-buying-a-pair-of-socks-no-money. My husband had a good, steady job, but I was still in college. So my contribution was minimal.

Okay. Fine. So my contribution came when he could claim me as a dependent on his taxes.


You should also know that at the beginning of my marriage…I followed my husband 1500 miles away from my home to that steady job.  Away from everyone I knew and everything that was familiar. From mountains to beach. From heavy sweatshirts to bikini wear (and even at that age I didn’t have the abs for it). From sweaty Birkenstocks at the grocery store, to shirtless/shoeless men with ferrets in the meat department.


Knowing that I was completely out of my element, my husband did his very best to make me feel at home. Now, I realize that for most men, feeling at home involves a good bean-bag chair and a six pack of Miller High Life. But my husband went above and beyond the manly/husbandly call of duty.

(Especially for an Engineer.)

He bought me a piano.

I’ve played the piano since I was five. I’ve sung since I can remember. I even went so far as to get a music scholarship to college (which I promptly dumped because…frankly…it was just too damn hard). Music was my stress reliever. My outlet. My way to get back at the world in an out-of-tune way when it just pissed me off.

When I married my husband, I realized that I would be giving up my childhood piano and I had no idea when we would ever be able to afford to actually buy one ourselves. And that was okay. I loved him and I just couldn’t wait to be with him. So giving up something that was so much a part of me and replacing it with something that I couldn’t wait to be with every waking minute...seemed like a pretty fair trade.

But one day…at an estate sale…my husband saw a piano for $200. And he looked at me and said, “Let’s get that.”

Knowing that we really didn’t have $200 to spend on it, I said, “Why? It’s not necessary.”

And he replied, “Because you need it. And I want you to feel like you’re home.”

Okay. I know all you girls are feeling all “melty.” But I really hesitated. Ummmm…water bill…piano? Car payment…piano?

Busch Lite money…piano?

I looked at him (in my divine 20-year-old wisdom) and said, “I don’t care what I have. I don’t care where we are. You’re home. And I can take you with me wherever I go.”

I didn’t realize until later, how that moment, that realization, would affect me.

At 20, I possessed the na├»ve belief that nothing bad would ever happen. That he would always be with me. That even if we ended up in a cardboard box…we’d still be home.

At that age, I never thought I would be without him. I didn’t know that I could afford to have my kids involved in the activities they wanted to be in. That we could eat out some times and not have to worry. That I could have the material things that I needed.

But that without him...I'd still feel homeless.

I had a big family day today. I had a lot of personal tears because a huge fraction of my family was gone. No one else knew. No one else saw.

But every once in awhile…I would have a feeling. I would smile into thin air. I would laugh when nothing was funny. I would be inspired by a blank wall.

And there was something in me that knew. I could take him with me.

I was home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tired of Ripping Off the Big Grief Band-Aid

Once again, I’m grieving the pending loss of an inanimate object.

What is with me??? I mean, it’s not like it got up and kissed me good morning every day. It’s not like it comforted me when I was blue. It hasn’t even bought me any jewelry worth mentioning.

But it was something my husband put together years ago.

My oldest daughter’s birthday is coming up and my big surprise for her is that when she comes home from school, her room will have been magically changed from a little girl’s room…to a space more fitting for a pre-teen.

Now, I’m really excited to do this. It involves everything that I love: Shopping, decorating, and…well…shopping.

But in my attempt to make this miraculous transformation…something’s got to go in order to make more room. And that something would be the dresser my husband put together for her years ago.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, my 2 ½ year old daughter was promoted from the nursery to her own “big girl room” because her brother was on the way. I happily decorated a very girly space for her and I can still see my husband grunting and groaning over the cheap piece of furniture that I’d bought for her room. And I’ll never forget the look of delight on her face when she walked into her new space.

Now, I know that, realistically speaking, I’m really kind of grieving two things: The loss of the dresser and the fact that my daughter is no longer a little girl. A transformation that my husband has missed.

But it got me to thinking last night.

Sometimes I feel like as I slowly get rid of all of these things from my past, things that were here when my husband was here…well…I feel like I’m slowly ripping off a band-aid. I mourn every piece that goes, every pad of paper that I throw away that might have one page with his handwriting on it, every pillow that has gone flat, but he may have slept on it at some point.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the changes I have made to my house. I wouldn’t want to be a bedroom with the wallpaper falling down around me. I realize that, while getting rid of the dryer was sad, I don’t have the time to line dry everything. I’m happy with the new exterior paint color.

But as I was sitting on my bed feeling a little blue last night, I asked myself, “If you could do anything...and money was no object…what would you want to do?  Would you have left this house already?  Or will you never be able to leave this house?”

Here’s what I decided.

If my husband had to go, what I wish I could have done was have the unlimited funds to pick up and leave this house right away. Just kind of make a clean break. Move into someplace completely new with new everything…furniture, pictures…everything. No more slowly taking off that band-aid. Just rip it off, arm hairs and all, and be done with it.

But I’d want to be able to keep my house and leave it exactly the way it was when he was here.

(I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “house hoarder” but I’d like to give it a shot.)

Wouldn’t that be amazing? To kind of move forward a little, but to know that if you wanted to, you could walk right back into your old house and remember things exactly how they were. When you start feeling sad, it could be kind of like your “Grief Clubhouse” and you could just drive over, walk in, and bawl your eyes out. No reason to get rid of any of the stuff you don’t use…because you’re already in a new and energy efficient place (with a maid. Hey…if I’m going to daydream, I might as well go all the way). You don’t have to get rid of that dryer…the one at your new house works great. Who cares if your kids don’t fit in those little beds anymore? They’ve got new stuff at the new house.

I have visions of myself as I am now, walking into this house as it was then, like it’s a museum. Just walking through the rooms and seeing things as he left them. His clothes still in the closet. Our bed unmade ‘cause we just didn’t have time. His coffee pot still on the counter. His shoes thrown some place where I’m sure to trip over them.

There’s just one thing that keeps this scenario from being perfect.