Thursday, April 10, 2014

Normal is the New Crazy

I don't know if anyone else does this but me, but sometimes I think about my beginning weeks, months, and years as a widow and remember it almost like it happened to someone else.

Was that really me who got up and took care of three small children?  Who stripped her entire bedroom of wallpaper just weeks after her husband died?  Who worked out nonstop and lost about thirty pounds in two months?

Surely not.

I think that's why, when people say to me, "I don't know how you did it," I can honestly look at them and say with some surprise, "I don't know how I did either."

Because sometimes I really don't think that was me.  That was a more put-together widow.  Because this chick wouldn't mind staying in bed all day or only using her gym membership for the hot tub.

I got a phone call from a neighbor and close friend this morning who tearfully informed me that one of her close friends had just lost her husband.  The message was left at 12:30 AM and I didn't get it until 7:00 AM, but it was obvious that my friend is heartbroken and, therefore, so am I.

To be honest, when I hear news like this, I'm less sad about the person who is gone and more upset knowing what someone is getting ready to go through.  That may not make sense to some of you, but there you have it.

I don't know why, but after hearing the news this morning, I started remembering things I had totally forgotten about.  I know I mentioned in Confessions of a Mediocre Widow my odd train of thought when my mother was driving me home from the hospital after Brad I wondered if anyone had taken my daughter to ballet or if anyone had taken all three kids to the park recently.  Just little things like that. 

But this morning I started remembering all of the weird things I did right after he died - because they were so normal.  And by acting so normal, I wonder if I seemed slightly crazy to everyone else.

Like keeping my dentist appointment the week after Brad died and telling my hygienist before she started cleaning my teeth, "I know Brad has an appointment next week, but he died, so could you cancel it?"

Going to my hairdresser less than a month after he died and saying, "My husband died so I need highlights."

I mean, how weird is that?

And then I thought about something I had totally forgotten:  how I had called the teenager at the swimming pool the day after he died who had been giving my daughter lessons and said, "I don't think Haley will be in this week.  Her dad died."

This all seemed so normal at the time, but when I think back on it, I can't believe how together I was!  These days, I'm more likely to forget someone has a lesson and we miss it altogether, I'm overdue for my dentist appointment and I'm really not worried about it, and don't even get me started on my hair.

Who would have thought that the shock of a dead husband was what it would take for me to get shit done?

Actually, I don't know if that's true.  I think my shock was somewhat delayed.  When I look back on the last 6 1/2 years, I really think that the shock came about three years in - I don't think I was all that shocked in the moment.  Or maybe I was TOO shocked to really know how shocked I was.

I don't if it was denial or just an overwhelming determination that life would go on that had me acting so normal in the face of insanity.  All I know is that I look back on that time in my life and wonder, "Who in the hell was that?"


I actually told my therapist the other day how I kind of miss that new widow.

Now, that sounds crazy (that's why I can say these things to my therapist - crazy is a given), but it's a little bit true.  Yes, that new widow had just had her life blown apart and didn't recognize any of the pieces that were left.  But in the midst of her insanity, she was so positive that somehow she would build her life even better than it was before.  She looked at the mountain of life before her - the kids, the house, relationships - and just knew that she could conquer them all.

As I said in the book, I've always felt I've grieved backwards (thus, the mediocre widow part) because it wasn't then that I questioned if I could build the life I's now.  I think there is a place I thought I would be by now and to be honest...I'm not.  

Some things have gone better than I thought they would, others not so much.  I think one of the reasons I was so manic, trying to change my life all those years ago, was so that I would be more settled now.  And in many ways, that hasn't happened.

I'm not sure, but I think there was a moment around year two when I decided veer off what I thought was my chosen path.  The other way would have been easier, I think, because I would have been able to slide right into another version of my old life - living my comfortable suburban existence with someone who was willing to take care of me so I didn't have to depend solely on myself anymore.

But in a split second, I decided I didn't want that.  I wanted to try something else.  And it was probably in that moment that I truly became a different person.

Now, I can see my life for what it is.  I'm no longer that new widow who was determined to immediately "fix" her life and who could see the result of all of that manic hard work as some sort of happy ending.  I know now that there is no "end result."  There is life.  And that determination comes in fits and spurts separated

I'm figuring out that there is no way for me to envision what life will be like in a year, two years, ten.  Sure, it's okay to have goals, but that "new widow" way of thinking (I will be remarried, have a job, my kids will be 100% happy because I will make it so) is pretty unrealistic.

And it's okay that I chose a path I never thought I would.  Even if I have no idea where it's leading.


  1. The new widow me was deep down calm. She cried on the outside, but inside there was stunned silence. She walked three times a day with her dog (you can do that when you don't have little kids and when you stopped working during your husband's long illness). She grew vegetables and gave them away. She read a few grief books (not many) and went to her therapist and spent lots of time alone with her dog. She waited for the tears to stop. She waited for the ache to soften and her life to return. She knew it wouldn't be long.

    The new widow me knows the old life is gone and struggles to create a new one that feels right and a little happy. Thoughts fly in every direction. In the middle of the night, I obsess over goals that probably won't be met. I'm my old frantic self of 8 years ago before my husband got sick, not waiting, but working. Not crying, but obsessing.

    Thanks for your reflections and giving space for mine. I have no idea what the big picture is, but I submitted an article today and planted wildflower seeds in the bare earth, so maybe that's plenty.

  2. Elaine, like clue of the big picture of my life and for the most part, I have let go of knowing.

    The early on widow sobbed and wailed because death had ripped my heart right out of my chest. The day after Bill died, I efficiently organized friend/volunteers so they could distribute the next month's issue of the magazine I published, the one Bill and I did together originally - the one I did while taking care of him during a five year trek through Alzheimer's. I planned his funeral, typed up the funeral program, drove 100 miles to pick out a Trappist made wooden casket, sorted pictures for a slide show, wrote an obituary...and so much more. After the funeral I got to work on the next issue of Voice sobbing my way through it. I went to lunch with people I can't even recall now and do not even know; read at least 50 books on grief searching desperately for stories about people who lost what I lost and felt as I felt. I was out of my mind with grief and I simultaneously functioned while sobbing-screaming inside. It was many months before I began to realize I needed to settle down and just allow my grief to be...before I quit pushing the Grief River.

    Now four years later I know I may never figure out what I want to do with my life so I do what feels right at the moment. I have returned to my clinical practice of 38 years but now see a small handful of people, mostly clients I saw in the past who are themselves now dealing with loss or changes. I question whether I want to continue a practice until I get into a session with a client and then I know for sure I want to do this forever. I blog, help friends who are grieving, read and read articles on grief educating myself, study for ADEC's CT (Certified Thanatologist) exam, paint sometimes (something I started 4 months after Bill died), and care for our dog Bentley. Do I have it all figured out? Nope. Do I still do too much? Yep. Do I wish I could see a path/life that I would get excited about? For sure. What I do see is that I no longer wail though I do sob on and off; I also smile and make more sense than I did early on. I am still on an emotional roller coaster but the dips are not as deep now and I have learned to ride them instead of fight them (mostly) and function pretty well at the same time. I know I want a simpler life less cluttered with 'doing' and more filled with nature, quiet times, peace and friends who are real. Thank goodness, for my real friends.

  3. It's always amazing to me how your experience is so similar to mine as a widow, even though we have such different backgrounds and stories! I also remember feeling like I knew where life was taking me right after my husband died, and now I am approaching the two-year mark and have realized that i have no idea. Part of what I learned by his early death is that there are NO guarantees, so if I try to set up an image of where I want to be in a year or 5 years, all I'm truly doing is setting myself up for disappointment. In a way it is liberating to be able to look at life and say, "YEP, I'm 100% sure that I have no clue what is going to happen tomorrow...but I'm enjoying today to it's fullest just in case tomorrow doesn't come". I guess that is one beautiful gift my hubby left me with, which is a great trade off for the mountain of responsibilities that he left too!

  4. This sounds so much like me. I never thought of grieving "backwards". So true.