Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Post-Holiday Slump

I should actually re-title this.  Because it doesn't just happen after the holidays.  It happens after every milestone, birthday and, in some cases, Tuesday.

The Slump.

Now, this didn't happen to me in the beginning of my widowhood because, frankly, everything left me slumping.  I was in a two year battle for my sanity which had me completely exhausted.  Every day was tiring because every day was a milestone and I would find myself flopping on my bed after all of the kids were in tucked in, simultaneously proud of myself for making it one more day and annoyed that I was going to have to get up and do it all over again the next.

These days I don't do that.  It's partly because I'm into my 6th year and partly because I can no longer flop on my bed.  I just bought one of those Tempur-Pedic mattresses which does not allow one to flop.  It's got that memory foam in it which will allow you to slowly sink in, but does not have the springiness of a pillow top.  I realized this when, on the first day I brought it home, one of my kids did a running jump/flying leap combo that had her landing flat on her face on a mattress that just doesn't give.  At which point she stood up, rubbed her nose and said, "What the heck is wrong with your bed?"

I like this mattress for two reasons:
1.  My back feels better.
2.  Mom's room is no longer fun so let's not hang out in it anymore.

Ah, peace.  They should really put that in the commercial.

But I digress (I know that shocks you).  Aside from the memory foam, I'm no longer flopping as much as I used to.  Oh, I still have days when I don't want to get up but they've become less and less.  The problem is that when they don't happen as often, you really don't expect them.

Take this summer for instance:  I was so proud of myself for getting through Father's Day (which starts my personal month from hell because my birthday, his death, and our anniversary follow in rapid succession).  I felt good.  I thought I had this widow thing licked.  And then....

A week later, I twisted my ankle, got something stuck in my foot, my knee started swelling, and I got sick.  At that point I went to my therapist who asked one simple question:

"What the hell have you done to yourself?"

I'll tell you what I did.  I got too cocky, too confident.  I actually thought that by successfully getting through one holiday, I could get through them all.  That was when grief peeked around the corner, saw that I wasn't expecting it, and WHAM!  Knocked me on my ass.

We've all done it.  We start concentrating so hard on getting through whatever milestone is in front of us that we forget there is often a price to pay.  We get tunnel-visioned on that one specific day and use up all of our energy to just get through those 24 hours.

And then we wake up the next day sick, sad, and exhausted with an unfloppable bed.

I just did it myself.  My husband's birthday and Thanksgiving were 4 days apart this year.  I sailed through his birthday, so proud of myself that I felt better this year.  Thanksgiving went well, thanks to my sister's family and our participation in the 4 mile Turkey Trot during which we wore the most fashionable head gear.  The Monday after the holiday weekend, I felt a little tired but not too bad.

And then this morning I sat down to read for just a minute and 2 hours later I woke up.

I don't do that.  Sleep during the day???  There's too much to be done!  For a moment, when I sat up from the couch I felt so guilty about everything I should be doing.  And then I stopped because I realized I obviously needed it.

I've always said that my body starts grieving before my mind does.  The crazy thing is that when I actually pay attention to what's going on and what my body is trying to tell me, I'm usually the better for it.

So I don't care that I fell asleep.

And I really don't care if the breakfast dishes are still out, I didn't make it to the gym, and a shower might not be in the cards for me today.

In fact, I just might go test out the floppableness of that new mattress.

So, there.

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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

His 40th Birthday. But Instead Of Over The Hill He's Under The Ground

Okay.  Tacky title.  Sorry.  I was trying to come up with something witty and I think I missed.

Another November 19th has come and gone.  For most of you, it's just another fall day spent at work or at home or dreading the family that's coming to visit you later this week for Thanksgiving.  But for our family, it was our 6th annual Daddy Day.

Otherwise known as my husband's birthday.

This year he would have turned 40 and for the past few weeks, I have been longing to have him here so that I could tease him about how old he looks and how he hit 40 four years before I did.  But that son-of-a-gun went and died on me which means that I'll hit 40 someday and he never will.

I can hear his laughter echoing in my head right now.

I invented Daddy Day 5 years ago (not 6 because I was in such a fog on that first birthday I could barely even pronounce "balloon" much less have it together enough to buy some and release them).  My husband's birthday was such a hurdle for me, the mere thought of it reducing me to a big, fat grieving puddle.  So I convinced myself and the kids that it was a day that should be celebrated and, being the toddlers that they were, they totally bought it.

It took me a few years of trying to get through Daddy Day, but I think I'm starting to buy it, too.

I haven't done many things right on this journey through the widdahood, but I'm pretty proud of how I've turned my husband's birthday around for the kids so that it's something they look forward to every year.  I take them out of school and we all play hooky, eat junk food and do whatever we want.  Daddy Day is much more exciting when it falls on a weekday because we all think we're doing something rebellious, but we enjoy it just as much on the weekend.

It's our day to be together and have fun no matter what.

For the first few years, Daddy Day was filled with misfires because I tried so hard to make things perfect, which is pretty much impossible with 3 small children.  But now that the kids are older, we can be more flexible with our plans and if something doesn't work out, they're no longer at the ages where they will sit on the floor of the movie theater and wail because Mommy got the movie times mixed up.

Yes, that's happened.  Twice, actually.

We did our usual this morning:  went to the movies and ate junk food and smiled at each other thinking about those poor suckers sitting in classrooms all over town while we cheered on Wreck-It Ralph.  And then we piled into the car and headed up to the mountains to "visit Daddy."

Ugh.  I hate even saying that.

All the way up there, I noticed these little cabins tucked into the trees, smoke pouring out of chimneys, and envisioned happy family scenes in each one.  I was jealous of all of those people who were breathing a sigh of relief that they might have the entire week off to spend with each other and I remembered days long ago when I would have been so excited for this week because my husband wouldn't be traveling.  I felt something hollow open up - almost like homesickness, very much like loneliness - and I wanted to turn the car around and abandon Daddy Day for Mom-Is-Going-To-Stay-Under-The-Covers-Day.

I always try and gauge how the kids are doing on days like this.  I don't like to pressure them into talking because they really may not have anything to say.  But I wonder what children who were 5,3, and 1 when their dad died and who were for the most part too young to truly understand what was happening at the time, think about now that they're old enough to articulate their feelings.

Do they miss him?  Is a milestone like this a big deal to them?  Has this affected them in a huge way or is our family as it is now just so normal to them that they don't think about it much?  Someday they might let me know.

I wondered the same questions the other day when we sat down to watch an old home movie.  My son had unearthed it in the depths of the storage room and put it in the VCR - I had no idea that we had it.  My heart stopped when I heard my husband's voice for the first time in 6 years and then my eyes wandered over to my kids, wondering what they were thinking.

My oldest stared at her 3-year-old self and laughed every now and then at what she was saying.  She watched her father pull her around on a sled and talk to her from behind the camera.  My son looked at himself as a newborn being held by a younger me and cuddled in a way he wouldn't allow now.

And my youngest?  The one who was too young to really remember him?  She sat there with a little smile on her face but I wondered how it felt to know that she got the least amount of time with him and that she wasn't on the video at all.

I caught her today when we were at the cemetery, having a quiet moment at her dad's headstone.  She didn't know I was watching her as she stacked rocks next to him as if wanting to leave something behind of herself that would keep him company.  She sat there and stared at the lettering on the rock until she caught me looking at her.  And then she giggled as if she had done something silly, raced up, and took my hand.

It wasn't until later, when we were sitting down to dinner, that she kind of let me in on what she was thinking.  I brought the kids to Country Buffet for the first time in their lives because it was a very "Daddy" kind of place, and I thought it would be fun for them to just go crazy and get what they wanted - I didn't care if they spent the entire time at the Dessert Bar - this was Daddy Day, dammit.

At that point, my daughter's eyes got wide and declared it a "food wonderland." 

Plate after plate of food came and went and then, while the two oldest were up getting food, I sat there with my 6-year-old daughter and she said with a mouth full of ice cream, "You know when daddy died?"

I watched her carefully.  "Yes?"

"That was a real heart-breaker, huh?"

You said it, kiddo.

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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Finding Home

I was looking at my personal page on Facebook the other day (something I haven't done much in 2012 thanks to the election) and I saw a post from my friend Karen Turner, Founder of ASK (Acts of Simple Kindness) that said:

"Today, I'm grateful that I have a ♥ home ♥ -- not just a house. When Steve died, our house felt like four walls on a rocky foundation -- he brought such life and energy and when he died, it was just so quiet and empty. Over the past five years, it's become a home again thanks to a crazy kitten, a puppy with way too much energy and a tornado of a happy and healthy boy. It's taken some work, physically and emotionally, but it's also gone from 'our' house to 'my' house which has been bittersweet but necessary to move forward."

I sat there at my computer for a minute and thought, "Good for her."

And then I sat up when I realized, "Wait.  Me too!"

I don't know when it happened.  I mean, I know exactly when my house stopped becoming my home and became just a structure that kept us warm (something that I'm always grateful for).  It was the day that death walked in the front door and sucker-punched us, leaving us all breathless.  But...when did it become a home again?

How could something so important - so monumental - happen in a way that I didn't even notice?

Well, I guess it must have been gradually.

I've passed the 5 year mark.  I got through it this summer.  On Monday I will celebrate my husband's 6th birthday without him, a day that is usually filled with adventure because I take my kids out of school and we do completely frivolous, mind-numbing, junk-food-eating-til-we're-sick stuff all day in order to celebrate his life.  (I'm sure he would approve.)  And I've chosen the word "adventure" because otherwise I would have to say "this day really sucks and makes me want to crawl into a hole with my favorite sweats, a box of Puffs plus, and a family-size bag of Doritos."

I tried to do that one year but I didn't have the energy to actually dig the hole.

Anyway, I've learned throughout the years that most of the changes we go through in the widdahood are so jarring that it takes us months to realize what has actually happened.  But, as we move forward, changes actually take months and it's the realization that's jarring.  So when Karen published that post, it took me by surprise.  Because I suddenly realized I felt the same way.

I know that I'm one of the lucky ones.  I wasn't forced to move from my home right after my husband's death and for that I'll always be grateful.  I remember my realtor telling me once, "There's nothing more stressful than moving, except maybe death or taxes."

So what happens if you hit the trifecta?

The truth is that right after my husband died, I was itching to move.  Actually...I was itching to do just about anything as long as it kept me from thinking about what had happened.  For some reason I thought what I needed was change and I rationalized that moving made sense.  But deep down I think I knew that I was just trying to run away.  Trying to break free from the grief I felt I had suddenly become a slave to.  

Trying to get away from the walls that contained so many dreams that would never be realized.

But I didn't move.  I asked for a sign one day and said, "If I'm supposed to move tell me now."

I won't tell you what the sign was, but it came about 5 minutes after my request and took no interpretation:  STAY WHERE YOU ARE.

So I stayed in the house that was no longer a home and I changed a few things.  I changed my bedroom.  I painted here and there.  I bought a new TV.  I, in an act of defiance, put a chair in a place that I knew my husband wouldn't approve of.  I took what we had and slowly made it mine.

Actually, I made it ours.  But not the "ours" that we were before.  I took this house and made it home - for the family fate forced us to be.

And then there were the "stuck" years.  The years that the house tied me so tightly to my husband I felt I could never break the bond.  The years when I actually envisioned being in this house alone because I would choose it over anyone who came my way.  The years that made my house a territory to be protected - which is much different than a home.

In the last few months, I've started entertaining again.  I stopped doing that for a while and I'm not sure why.  It could be that in the first couple of years, I entertained non-stop trying to convince myself of something I didn't quite feel yet.  And it could be that in the last couple of years, I stopped entertaining because it seemed so empty - I knew that bringing our friends here would not bring him back.  

And that didn't just make me helpless.  It made me feel hopeless.  And, in a spiritual way, homeless.

But now.  My house is filled with laughter.  Filled with hope.  Filled with the faith that comes from knowing that we are a family, even if our original vision of "family" may never be realized.  It's warm and comforting with my husband's old leather chair in the corner and the kids' most recent artwork on the walls.  This house is a part of my husband because I can look around and see all of the things he's fixed.  All of the things he's painted.  And all of the things that we have kept because we love him.

But I can also see things that we, the family we never thought we would be, have done.  I can look at things I've fixed.  And I can see the things that are broken that will make me call a repair man (and curse my husband's absence while I'm doing it).  I can look at his picture, still hanging on the wall even though recently I've been thinking of taking it down because I'm ready to.

And then I know.

I'm home.

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.