Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It Ain't No Thing

It's hard to explain to people how upsetting it can be to let go of a thing.  I think it's like when you try to explain how devastated you are about losing a pet:  your friends will nod and pat you on the back while secretly thinking, "For God's sake!  It was just a cat!"  And you know they're thinking that so you try and justify it by going into detail about how that was the best cat in the entire world and how it changed your life and brought you so much comfort and joy over the years.

Now, take that scenario and replace "cat" with "refrigerator" and most of the people you know will start drawing up your commitment papers and preparing your padded cell.

It really shouldn't be that hard to explain to other people how inanimate objects can have a significant hold on all of us because EVERYONE is sad to lose something at some point during their life.  It doesn't even take a catastrophic event to make it happen (although that does further it along and makes you sad to lose everything from appliances to plants to Tupperware).

For example:  I was extremely sad to leave the first house my husband and I bought together even though the move came at the right time for us and I was thrilled about my new house.  But I brought my babies home to that first house.  I met some of my best friends on that block.  And we had one particular neighbor that we enjoyed torturing every once in a while.

All good memories.  And all hard to let go of when we left.

My boyfriend is getting a good dose of this right now.  His stepfather recently passed away and last night he teared up a little as he told me how hard it was going to be to have his cell phone turned off.

"I mean, he still has updates," he said.  "Oh, God.  I know this must sound crazy to you."

Crazy?  To me?  Uh, if I recall...I called him in tears when I had a new dryer installed.  He talked me through a anxiety attack when I got my daughter a new dresser and gave away the one that her dad had put together for her years earlier when she was just a toddler.  And just a few days ago, he just about had me breathing into a paper bag as I purchased a new sofa.

And I wasn't hyperventilating because of the price.  I was panicked because I knew that meant I would have to get rid of the old one.

So, no.  It's not crazy.

But this whole week, I have been questioning why.  Why is it so hard?  I mean, they're just objects.  Things.  A "thing" that is important to one person, another wouldn't think twice about disposing of. Reason says that dryers die and need to be replaced, cell phones cost us money every month so if we're not using them they should be shut off, and couches get worn and fall apart.

And the only answer I can come up with is that...they're not just things.  They're tangible memories.  And I think there's a part of us that feels like if we let them go, we'll forget what we want to remember.

Here is a great example. 

When I told my mother about how upset my daughter was about getting rid of my husband's chair, she said, "It's funny how we get attached to things like that.  I was just trying to find a picture of my grandmother's chair - you know, the one you have in your living room? - because I wanted you to see where it came from.  I have so many memories of that chair and I'm so glad that one of us still has it.  Tell you what.  If you want to, we'll put your husband's chair in my basement since you don't have the room.  That way at least one of us still has it."

"Oh, you don't have to do that," I said, but secretly relieved that we might have come up with a solution.

"Sure we can.  We'll just get rid of that other chair we have."

I was silent for a minute.  "You mean the one I grew up with?"


"You can't do that!" I wailed into the phone.  "You can't get rid of that chair!  You've had that chair my entire life!  I watched cartoons in that chair!"

That chair said "home" to me.  It said comfort.  And even though I rarely sit in it anymore, it just makes me feel better knowing that it's there.  Now my children sit in it and climb on its overstuffed arms as they watch their own cartoons at Nana and Pop's house, just as I did at Mom and Dad's.

All of these things are not things.  They're symbols.  They physically represent our memories.

That first house was where we really made our first home.

That dryer made it from Florida to Colorado with us.  It dried his clothes.  It warmed baby socks. 

That cell phone is how my boyfriend talked to his stepfather every week.  It carried his voice from one end of the country to another.  It kept them together.  And now it's silent.

And that couch.  The one my husband napped on with newborns (as I watched carefully just in case he should let go and they'd end up on the floor).  The one we sat on together and watched Sunday football.  The one I was constantly telling my kids to stop jumping on.  And the one that held me late into the night for years when I couldn't sleep through the silence that is widowhood.

You're damn right I cried when it was gone.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Children and the Chair

I did a little furniture shopping last night with my two youngest children (6 and 8 years old).  They LOVE going to the furniture store.  I don't know why.  They also love open houses.  Maybe they'll be professional stagers someday?

Anyway, I was looking for a chair to replace the leather one I have in my TV room that has kept us comfortable for years, but is starting to look like it has kept us comfortable for years.  It has a hole in one arm, the piping is starting to rip, and the ottoman broke some time last winter.

So my two kids were running around, marveling at the new seating technology that's out there - apparently now you can not only get a recliner that has a heated seat, you can also press a button so that the foot part automatically comes up for you.  I find it sad that before you sit down with your potato chips and beer, you don't even have to exert the effort to recline.

But I digress (as always).

They were so busy that they didn't even think to ask what I was shopping for until we were leaving the store empty-handed.

"I'm trying to find a new leather chair because the old one is ripping," I said

"But you can't get rid of that chair," said my youngest, alarmed.  "That was Daddy's chair.  That's like throwing him away."

She was only a year old when he died and and too busy being a toddler to really comprehend all that we had already had to go through of my husband's - either throwing away, donating, or passing on to loved ones - to really know what was going on.  There are boxes of his things that I've kept, but through the last 5 years we have really whittled down the things that were his.

It's so strange to me that we are going through this 5 years later, but I guess it makes sense.  She didn't understand what was going on way back then, but she does now.  So getting rid of something that was her dad's is as fresh to her now,...because she "gets it" now...as it was to me years ago.

"I know," I said, turning to her in the car.  "I know it was Dad's.  But it wasn't Dad.  We have lots of memories of Dad and we always have him with us.  The chair isn't him.  It was just something that he had."

It's hard to explain something like that to your kid when you don't entirely understand it yourself because you are incredibly sad to be giving away your husband's chair.  Who am I to convince her that she shouldn't be?

At that moment, my son (who was 3-years-old when his dad died) said, "Mom...where is dad?"

"What do you mean?" I asked him in surprise.  "You know where he is.  He's buried up in the mountains."

"Yeah, but what exactly did we bury?"

Now, I've explained cremation to my kids before but, as with the chair, with age and wisdom often comes confusion.  So even though we've already been through this, it was time to go through it again, this time in more detail explaining what cremation is (without completely scarring them) and what we buried.

"So we just stuck his ashes in a box?" he asked me, like we had just thrown his dad into what my newest pair of Adidas came in and dropped him in the ground.

"No...I got a pretty box that most people call an urn and that's what's in the mountains."

"Wait.  What are ashes?"  my youngest piped in from the backseat.

Oh, Lord.

I just wanted to buy a new chair.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Helping Others: Should I Pat, Hug, Feed or Pour?

Grief makes me feel stupid.

And if you're thinking, "Nothing can make you feel stupid without your consent" - I'm going to have to argue with you this time.  I'm not letting it make me feel stupid.  It just does.

I know that I'm not the only one who goes through this.  Anyone who has experienced a significant loss has gotten this line before:  "Since you've been through this before, you'll be the perfect person to talk to about it."

And sometimes I think that the fact that I've been through this before makes me the worst person to talk to about it.

Before this happened, I would have been like most of the world, trying to commiserate with the person who has had their life ripped out from underneath them, saying the wrong thing with good intentions, and dropping off a casserole right after the death, when the fridge is full and no one can eat anyway.

But since I've been through what would be considered a "significant loss," it actually makes me much less helpful.  I don't know what to say because I know that something I personally found comforting might make you want to smack me.  I don't know if I should bring food because I remember how exhausting just accepting help from others actually was.  I don't know if I should hug or pat, feed or pour.

The funny thing is that I think most people who have gone through a significant loss don't always want to talk to someone who has been through the same thing and the people who haven't been through it always assume they do. What we really want is to talk to someone who can sympathize with us, but not make our grief their own.  We want someone who will cry with us and not say, "I know how you're feeling because when my husband died..." because we don't want to hear about when your husband died right after we've lost our own.
We know that we're not the first person to go through something like this.  But we all feel like we are in the beginning.

This is why so many of us need that perfect combination of peer support and counseling:  The peer support to make us not feel so crazy and the counseling just to have someone nod and actively listen while we bawl ourselves dry and then walk away from the office, head pounding but feeling just a little lighter.

The worst part about me now is that I'm so damn practical about death, mainly because asking you about benefits and advising you on what paperwork needs to be filed right away and what offices need to be called is a tangible thing.  It's something I can do and it's concrete.

Dealing with emotions after loss sometimes feels like quicksand.  And I'm always worried that the more I try to help you, the more you'll sink.  That's probably not something that a lot of people understand.  But it's still a fear of mine.

Since I'm not entirely sure how to handle your raw emotions because there is a very good chance that they're different from my own, I'll skip right over that and ask if you've thought of what comes next, what kind of plans have been made, and make sure that you're hydrated.  I'll sigh with you over paperwork that should have been done, benefits that should have been purchased, and the fact that no one is actually EVER prepared for what comes next.

I hate that this has all made me so cold and I know that it's for the simple reason that I can't stand to think of what's about to happen - the pain, the tears, the frustration, and the long slow climb out of a very dark hole.  If I put my mind to it, I actually probably could say the right thing and be very helpful.  But in order for me to do that, I'd have to put myself back in that place.

And that scares the shit out of me.

So, for now I'll keep patting.  I'll keep hugging, feeding, and pouring.  But most of all, I'll keep listening.

Because really...that's the best thing I can offer anyway.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.