Monday, October 31, 2011

Heartbreak at Home Depot

My bathroom has been diligently working on a leak for a while.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but when my children came running upstairs from the breakfast room the other day screaming, “The ceiling is LEAKING!!” (which, incidentally, I thought they were saying my dog was leaking…I never before realized how closely her name rhymes with “ceiling”), I decided that my method of just not making eye contact with the leak was not going to fix it.

(And I don’t know which is worse…a leaky ceiling or a leaky dog.)

As we all know, one leak can turn into gutting your entire house, which is where I find myself right now.  My house was built in 1979 and has original EVERYTHING.  It’s not just due for a face lift…it needs a boob tuck, lip filler, and could probably stand to have a few joints replaced.

In other words…we’re going to be in recovery for a while.

Which is how I found myself at Home Depot today, trying to envision (again…not my strongest area) the custom cabinets I would so like to have, but probably can’t afford.  This has happened to me a couple of times since my husband died and always leads to the question:  “Should I just do the basics for possible re-sale someday…or should I just do it all because I’m going to stay here?”

So, now my little leak has me worried about where I will be in the next 10 years.

I hate working on these details.  I don’t like measuring, I don’t like looking at one million cabinet knobs, and I don’t like looking at 50 different versions of white.  I would like to point to a picture, pack my bags for a 2 month cruise, and have it all done with a big bow tied to my bathroom door when I get home.

Okay, fine.  I can do without the bow.

I’ve really been trying to focus on the positive side with this whole bathroom thing.  My husband was one of those detail people which is how I spent about ¾ of our marriage in some sort of furniture or home improvement store.  I actually think he did it on purpose.  We had very different tastes and I think he knew that if he just kept me in there long enough, with 3 small children, eventually I would just say, “Get whatever you want!  I don’t care.  Just get me the hell out of here!!!!”

Which is how we ended up with a sofa I still haven’t warmed to 13 years later.

But today I was missing him.  I didn’t want to pick everything out on my own.  I wanted to fight.  I wanted to have his opinion.  I wanted him to look at me funny when I picked out a 72” cabinet for a 60” space.

After sitting with a very nice woman who was patiently trying to piece together something that might work using a computer program I couldn’t see how anyone could understand, I had just about hit my breaking point.  I was just about to tell her, “My husband is dead and he’s the person who should be doing this” (something that I try not to spring on people, but Home Depot brings out the worst in me), when I took a deep breath and decided to distract my widow mouth by paying her a compliment.

“Wow,” I said.  “That’s a beautiful ring.”

Her face lit up and she said, “Thank you so much!  I just got it last week!  We’re getting married in April!”

I don’t know if it was how happy she was, or just my home improvement depression, but I felt that old familiar lump start to form and wondered if anyone else but me had a nervous breakdown every time they walked into Home Depot.

“Now,” she continued, “Let’s save these plans so that when you come back we can pull them right up.  What’s your phone number?”

She typed it in, pointed to the computer monitor, and said, “Is this your information?”

Pause.  “No.  That’s my husband’s.”

Now, we all go through these times of indecision about correcting this stuff.  You either have to tell them to take your spouse’s name off and go through a very uncomfortable moment as you explain why…or you just let it go.  Which means the next time you come, it will pop up again.  And no one understands this but another widow…it’s painful when that happens.

I didn’t have it in me to correct her.  I didn’t want to explain to this cute, newly engaged girl that bad, tragic things can happen…and then you find yourself pouring out your heart and soul to a stranger in the Kitchen & Bath section of Home Depot.  I wanted out.  Out of the whole thing.  Out of making all of the decisions.  Out of dealing with the house by myself.  Out of trying to figure out how to pay for it on my own.

And I wanted to get the hell out of Home Depot.

I grabbed my plans and bolted.  I put my sunglasses on before I even hit the door and felt my face crumble as I shut myself into the safe cocoon of my car.  And right before I turned the ignition, my cell phone went off and I saw that I had an email.

It was a newsletter.  From the company my husband worked for when he died.  Something that in all of the years he’s been gone, I have never received.  And I took that email to mean one thing.

“I’m here.”

Of course it could have also meant something else.

“What the hell are you thinking with those cabinets??  That will never look right!”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Could Grief be the Best Teacher You've Ever Had?

You know me…I always try and look on the bright side if I can (except when it comes to Halloween costumes apparently), but there have been several times when I’ve jokingly said that there’s nothing wrong with a good wallow every once in a while.

But this was something I learned a lot later than I should have.

I’ve always known that I’m an impatient griever.  Right after my husband died, I remember saying to my sister, “I can’t wait to be a year out and farther away from this whole ‘widow’ thing.”

I don’t know why I thought that.  That was before I’d read any books about grief or before I even knew any other widows.  But I had it in my head that if I could just get a year away from his death…I would be much better off.  Maybe I wouldn’t even be considered a widow anymore!

Denial.  Denial, denial, denial.

And I wasn’t just denying that all of this had happened.  It was so much more than that.  I didn’t want to feel angry because I didn’t think it would do me any good.  I didn’t want to feel sad because it wasn’t on my agenda.  I didn’t want to feel lonely because I knew that if I didn’t want to be alone, it was within my power to fix it.

How unfair I was to myself to not let it all in!  And the truth is…it came anyway because you can only push it back for so long before it takes a battering ram and gets in somehow.  Just because it was within my power not to be alone…didn’t mean that I wasn’t lonely.  And just because being angry did me no good…doesn’t mean that I wasn’t.  And even though I kept telling myself I was fine…the sadness was always there. 

And little of it always will be.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the woman who couldn’t wait to get away from widowhood started blogging about pretty much nothing but widowhood?  But for the first, I would say, 2 years after he died, I did everything within my power to push my grief away.  I stayed as busy as I possibly could, trying to develop a life that had nothing to do with my loss.  I tried to outrun it, out-shop it, and outlive it. 

And now you have no idea how much I regret that I did that.

I wish with all of my heart that I had started blogging or journaling the day after my husband died.  Oh, I had some things written down here and there.  But the truth of it was that my life was so frightening to me at the time…to put it down in black and white was unthinkable.  The anger, the confusion, the sadness, and…yes…the despair.  With everything around me geared toward moving on and moving forward, I thought I was doing the right thing by not “wallowing,” putting on a happy face, and getting on with my life.  And I know that it must sound so odd to you that I wish that I could remember every little detail about my early days of grief now.  But I’ll tell you why.

It’s because I think that was when I was learning the most.

I was concentrating so hard on moving forward as fast as I could that I forgot to focus on the present and what I was learning.  I didn’t know that my sadness was forming my compassion.  I didn’t realize that my anger was fueling my determination.  I didn’t know that my confusion was developing my focus and helping me put together a different life.

That all of those things…they served a purpose in shaping who I was becoming.  And by ignoring them…I was denying a part of myself.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When Did the Great Pumpkin Get Replaced by the Halloween Hooker???

A few years ago, I was reading Beverly Cleary’s story of Henry Huggins (the lovable little boy who lives next door to Ramona Quimby) to my oldest daughter.  At one point during the story, Henry goes searching for stuff around his house in order to put together his costume on Halloween day.

“See…this is what we used to do,” I tried explaining to her.  “We didn’t go to the store.  We looked around to see what we already had to make our costumes.”

She gazed at me in wonder as she tried to figure out how I could have possibly created such fiction.

You remember those days, don’t you?  You know…way back when the girls were all ballerinas because they happened to have a left over recital costume that still fit.  And when the boys dressed like bums because their dad told them they could cut up one of his old shirts to wear with their already tattered jeans.

I was always the princess.  And there’s a very good reason for this:  If I didn’t decide early and speak up, my dad would put me in some elaborate costume that he had configured out of a cardboard box.

This was a lesson that my older sister somehow never learned.

I don’t know what his fixation on those boxes was all about.  I don’t know if he was just that frugal and didn’t want to let anything go to waste (especially something as valuable as cardboard) or if his little engineering mind was bored and he enjoyed daydreaming about how he could improve upon the cardboard contraption he’d taped my sister into the year before…

…but for years, he had her in something that required a box.  A big box.

One year she was a robot, complete with vacuum tubes for arms and a shoot cut out of the stomach for people to drop candy into the garbage bag that had been duct taped inside.

The next year, she was a Ritz cracker box, complete with top hat, cane, and high heeled tap shoes.  I’ll never forget skipping along the street trick-or-treating in my oh-so-comfortable ballerina costume, while she eyed every garden hose like it was a land mine.  Incidentally:  You should never put someone in high-heeled shoes with no traction who can’t even see her feet.

(As a side note:  My dad REALLY out-did himself when he made a covered wagon out of…you guessed it…cardboard boxes and put it on her bike for the 4th of July Parade.  She could barely pedal and had no ability to see anything except what was right in front of her.  But my dad sent her wobbling on her merry way.)

ANYWAY, today I went Halloween shopping with my kids, which I’m going to tell you…I’m starting to get really bitter about.  Costumes have gone up to a ridiculous $35-$40 each and we all know that they’re so cheaply made, all it takes is one misplaced piece of Velcro and the cheap fabric it’s made out of snags and runs.  I do my best to side-step the cost so that I don’t have to eventually explain to my financial planner (my sister…the girl in the cardboard box) that the reason the kids have no college fund is because they all wanted to be Harry Potter characters one year for Halloween. 

We start at Good Will, go to consignment stores, and as a last ditch effort…we’ll make our way to the dreaded Halloween store.

Every year I go to a Halloween store, I am more and more appalled.  This year, I actually walked in and did a double-take, thinking that I had accidentally brought my kids to the new XXX Adult Store that I didn’t know they’d opened in town.  The entire front of the store was all women’s costumes that barely hit below the Promised Land and stilettos I thought only “paid girls” wore.  Nurses, wizards, and police women lined the walls complete with neck-high cleavage and thigh-high boots.  I don’t know about you…but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female firefighter in fish-net stockings.  Something tells me that might be kind of flammable.

I would have LOVED to have been in on the Marketing meeting when someone raised their hand and said, “Excuse me?  But don’t we have a way to make that Crayon costume a little more…slutty?”

I grabbed the kids and immediately set out to find their section (which was, of course, at the very back of the store, so you had to walk through all of this soft porn to get to it) and I am here to tell you that what was back there, wasn’t much better.

Since my youngest had already picked out a Minnie Mouse costume at Good Will (thank God) and my son, disgruntled at the poor selection available for boys, had decided to recycle his Mario costume from last year…it was time to find a costume for my tall 10-year-old daughter.

And here’s what we found:

That’s right, folks.  There in the “tween” section of your local Halloween store lies everything you need to make your pre-teen daughter into the hooker you always dreamed she would be.

What happened to the bums?  What happened to the ballerinas??  What happened to the magical days of sending your child out in a cardboard box wondering if they were going to return hobbling or up-right????

I’ll tell you what’s happened.  Those costumes have been replaced by red leather boots, fake lashes, and dominatrix gloves.  My head started to swim when I realized that I still have one daughter to go and that by the time my 5-year-old is 10…we might be flipping through a vast selection of pre-teen Halloween pasties.

All I can say is this:  Watch where you’re going on Halloween this year.  ‘Cause there will be some 8-year-olds out there in stiletto boots and skirts so tight they can barely walk.  They’re sugared up and can’t see anything through their S&M masks.

Talk about scary.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blogging for a Cure

Artwork by Lisa Brandel
As many of you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and a new blog site, BlogNostics, is partnering with For Jen's Sake and hoping to make a contribution towards finding a cure.  But they can't do it without YOU.

From Oct. 1 through Oct.31, 2011, Writers, Poets, Photographers, Illustrators, Song Writers and Musicians are all welcome to join in raising awareness. BlogNostics is asking for donations in the amounts of $1, $5, $10, 25 or more to be donated when signing up for this event. All donations made will go to 1 of the following 5 organizations:

BlogNostics' goal is to raise $5000 towards finding a cure.

So how does it work?

Writers: Please write your real life story about you or a person you chose that has been afflicted with Breast Cancer and how it has changed your/their lives.

Poets:  Please write a poem about your personal plight or the plight of someone you chose who has been hit with Breast Cancer. You can even write about the disease itself.

Photographers and Illustrators:  Please tell us your visual story with photos or illustrations. Use a photo/photos or illustrations of the person that you feel tells the story of how their having Breast Cancer affected you. Feel free to use words if you so wish but your goal is to give us the visuals.

Song Writers & Musicians:  This is a great time to collaborate and bring us something wonderful to listen to. Song Writers who team up with Musicians can produce a YouTube video so we can all listen to and see.

IMPORTANT: All contest entries should include the date when the person was diagnosed, how they battled it, if they are still battling or are now in remission, how many times they have battled it, any organization that they went through for help, and if they died...the day their suffering ended.'s the exciting part.  What do you win?  Besides helping bring awareness to this deadly disease and helping us bring an end to it so that EVERYBODY wins, the prizes are as follows:

1st place winner gets to choose which organization the donation will go to. BlogNostics will issue a cheque to the chosen organization. name. Plus a 500 x 68 banner in which you will get to advertize your site for a month on BlogNostics.

2nd place winner gets to choose from any signed image in Lisa Brandel's (The Widow Lady) collection Art and The Human Condition. (National and International Shipping Free courtesy of Lisa Brandel). Plus a 210 x 200 ad space for a month on BlogNostics Side bar.

3rd place winner gets a 100 x 100 ad space on the side bar of BlogNostics and will be featured on our landing page as Blogger of the Month in November.

Should you have any questions regarding this fundraiser, please contact BlogNostics!  Best of luck to all of you amazing artists!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Truth Behind the Considerate Griever

Throughout the last few years, I have thought a lot about how we all handle widowhood differently.  We all move at our own pace and grieve within our own comfort zone.

It’s been interesting to me the way I’ve grieved.  For the most part, I consider myself a pretty private person when it comes to just letting go.  I’ve never even really cried during group “therapy” because I was afraid of looking “stupid” (I know…that’s stupid, but there you have it).  In fact, I remember being at one ceremony with a young widows group that was really meant to be emotional and I was so mortified that I was there and that I might cry, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I don’t even like crying in my therapist’s office when it’s just the two of us.


There are very few people I will get upset in front of (and even then it usually takes a few glasses of wine).  But for so long, even at the beginning, I was very focused on making the people around me feel comfortable.  No one ever knew how shallow my breathing got at the college football games my husband was missing.  No one knew how I was swallowing a lump in my throat during my first Boy Scout meeting. No one ever knew how hard it was to go to parties and events on my own…when everyone else was a couple.

No one knew how I used to lay on my bedroom floor and just sob with my pictures.

It wasn’t their fault.  I didn’t let them know.

I guess this tendency makes me a pretty considerate griever, but the truth is I’ve always been jealous of the people who have just let it all out there, not really caring what other people think.  I know that many of them have felt like a “freak” and may have possibly lost friends who didn’t understand why they’re still grieving after the first 4 weeks of widowhood…but I can’t tell you how freeing that sounds.  And for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t one of those people. 

But now I think I’ve got it.

It’s a fear of abandonment.

Being a “pleaser” and someone who tries her hardest to make others feel comfortable in any situation, I have had a fear all of these years that if I just cry and let it all out there…people would get uncomfortable.  And then they would leave and not come back.

It’s not like this is such a random concept.  I’ve been to parties where I’ve told people, during the course of the conversation, what’s happened and we all know what the usual response is to that:

“Oh. I’m so sorry.”

And then I’ve brightly said, “Oh, that’s okay!  We’re totally fine now!  So tell me more about that problem you’re having at work!”

And why have I done that?  Because the few times I’ve actually gone into how hard the situation is, I’ve run the risk of that person looking antsy and doing everything they can to get out of the conversation we’re having.

I needed people.  I’ve always needed people, even before my husband died.  I love being surrounded by people.  And I guess in my mind that has meant that I’ve had to be more reserved “in the moment”…only to release the grief monster in the privacy of my own bedroom later.

Because then I know…my pictures won’t walk away.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Authentically Living Off-Balance

I read something recently that I wanted to share with you that I think articulates part of the miracle…yes, I did say miracle…of loss.  Not the loss itself, of course…but what (dare I say) rebirth when it happens.   Mark Metousek said:

It seems perverse that authenticity should stem from loss.  The outline cracks, you split apart, half of you is left stranded on an iceberg floating into the chilly distance.  You’re suspended in partiality, cut off from who you thought you were.  This is when questioning starts, that’s the truth – when you can’t put yourself back together again, when the old parts don’t fit and the new ones have yet to arrive.  You stand there looking into the mirror wondering, What in God’s name is that?  This lopsided mess of an unglued creature leering back at what used to be me?  

….You haven’t yet heard of the hidden face.  You haven’t quite learned that losing what you thought  could never be lost is precisely what shows you who you really are.

Many of us talk about the changes that we go through after losing our spouse and if I could pinpoint anything positive that comes from loss…that would be it.  I had no idea, before my husband died, that I was living what I guess I would now call my “inauthentic” life.  And the truth is…I don’t know why I was. My husband was a good guy.  It wasn’t like he was forcing me into a life that I didn’t want.

I just never questioned what I wanted.

When he died…I had to.  I had to ask myself what I wanted because my life was gone.  I always hesitate to phrase that so negatively, but you know what?  Let’s call a spade a spade.  MY LIFE WAS GONE.  Not that I didn’t think I could go on living.  Not at all.  Even driving home from the hospital after he died, I knew that I had it in me to live a good life.  True, I didn’t know how hard the process was going to be. 

But I didn’t doubt that I would get there someday.

Now, many of people will say that their lives were perfectly fine before their spouses died.  And I’m sure that’s true.  Mine was.  But was I really looking at life?  Was I seeing the world unfiltered?  Was I questioning where I was going and what I wanted to get out of it?

Nope.  Not really.

I was a suburban housewife.  A happy suburban housewife.  Sure…no life is perfect.  But it was good.  I didn’t question it.  I didn’t want to rock my own boat.

And now that he’s gone?  Every so often I stand up in my boat so that I can see a little bit further.  Sure, standing up throws me off balance.

But how else can I make sure I’m going where I want to go?