Choose Your Mindset

The saying, “Mind over matter” is common, and in some ways probably over-used. You hear it in business, especially in sales, almost too much. You hear it from personal trainers at they gym when you’re just starting to work out and set your weight loss goals.  You hear it whenever there’s something tough to face or get through.  It really is an often used phrase.  But I’ve found in this journey of widowhood, it’s especially apropos.

The first year after a major loss is mostly about just getting through, sometimes breath by breath.  The second year can be just as difficult, as it becomes a realization that time is moving on and he hasn’t been there for any of it for more than a year. It’s the year that it all becomes permanent. He’s not coming back.   The third year seems to be the year where you’re faced with choosing your mindset.  Will you stay “stuck” or will you choose to move on?

Choosing to keep going and maybe even to make some lifestyle changes does not mean forgetting your loved one.  I have no doubt that my husband would be proud of me for the changes I’ve made in the last year.  I’m different in so many ways, post-loss.  And yet, in many ways, I find myself returning to parts of myself that got lost in the mix through the years.  Suddenly, I’m back in education. I’m back to the music I played thirty years ago that made me ever start playing in the first place.  I’m discovering parts of myself that I thought were lost.  That’s not to say I lost myself in my marriage, in fact, that’s a part of myself I miss, too. The part that belongs to someone.

I’ve also discovered new parts of myself.  I’ve found my voice.  I’m no longer afraid to say what I think, to go into new situations, or even to introduce myself to someone I’d like to know.  From the beginning of this journey, I’ve heard his voice in my head saying, “Man up!” (Yeah, I know….. but hey, he’s a guy.) I know I’m discovering sides of myself that he always knew were there and encouraged in me.  Because of this, sometimes I feel even closer to him, knowing that I’m becoming what he already knew I could be. Most of all, I know I’m able to make these changes thanks to what he gave me and what he taught me.

Does this mean that the rough days are over? Not at all. But it does mean that every day I decide how I’m going to face the day. Sometimes I still choose to let myself have a “wallow in it day”, but most of the time, I choose to have a day where maybe I can make a difference for someone else; a day where I can find the good and try to have an attitude of gratitude.   Every morning, when I say my prayers, I pray that my words, thoughts, and deeds be for good.  It really is a choice each day.  Your mindset is important.

 

Before & After

 

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When life-changing events occur, we tend to look at the timeline of our lives as “before” and “after” that event.  That is especially true after a major loss.

I’ve said before that I can’t believe it’s been three and a half years since he died. Years.  Years!  There are 365 days in a year.  Times 3.  That’s 1,095 days, plus six months, plus twelve days.  That’s a lot of days. So many days and yet, in many ways, it’s all gone by in a blur.  Remember VCR tapes, and how if you pushed fast forward you could still see things moving, just in a blurry way, but you could still tell what was happening?  That’s what it feels like.

This is the first week of fall. For the third time, it feels like I’ve never had a summer.  I don’t think I’ve even touched my swim suit in three years! The days turn into weeks, turn into months, turn into years (wait, that’s a song…. thanks, John Denver.) and before you know it, you can’t believe how long it’s been.

Someone might mention an event, and it immediately becomes an instance of before or after. Did that happen when he was still here or after he was gone? Or you look at some photos or Facebook memories, and you have to look at the year to remember, was he here for that or was that after?  Strange….

A friend told me recently that I’ve become a new version of myself since he’s been gone.  It’s true.  I’m definitely not who I was when he was here.  A lot of the change has been for the good, at least in terms self-confidence.  But I wonder sometimes what he would think of the changes.  Would he even recognize me?

Another widow friend told me one time that she still wears the same fragrance she wore when her husband was alive because, when she dies, she wants to be sure he recognizes her. I still wear the same fragrances, too, although not for that reason.  But as much as I’ve changed, I might make it the reason!

Change can be good, but I sure wish life would slow down a little so I could enjoy it a bit more.  I miss the before and sometimes, when I’m trying to fall asleep, I imagine conversations with him about the changes around here and what his response might be. But this part of the after isn’t so bad. If only there was a way to enjoy things a bit, instead of still just surviving.

The next part of this journey may prove to be the most difficult, as I face the very real possibility of selling our family home and moving to something smaller and more suitable for me.  This is going to be difficult not only for me but for my son. More memories and more letting go. I wonder if it will ever get easier.

I thought of putting a before and after photo at the end of this post, but the after would be surprising. There’s no doubt this journey has aged me.  Still, onwards and upwards!

The Things That Matter

Before I get too far in this, let me begin by saying I’m writing this one in stages. This first part I’m writing early in the week, and I’m sure I won’t get time to finish it until probably early next week.

When you lose almost everything that’s important to you, and after you’ve gone through the “fog” and the worst part of the grief journey, you hopefully come to a point where you start to figure out just what is important in this life.   I’m sure not everyone reaches this point, as I know some who are stuck in their grief journey.  That happens. It’s really difficult to get past the “why did this happen to me” part and arrive at the “okay, it happened, now what do I do?” part. It’s okay to be stuck sometimes, just don’t let yourself stay there too long.

In the span of less than five years I lost both my parents, my job of seventeen years (Hey, that was a major loss! Trust me when I say I really grieved over that!), my husband, and my father-in-law.  I had to literally start over both professionally and personally.

When going through major change and major loss, some things become clear.  I’ve learned two important things: People that you assumed would be there for you, may not be, but the people who were there for you, are those you never guessed would be “the ones.” You figure out that this life is not about the almighty dollar or who has the best or most stuff (contrary to what society wants you to believe) but it is about relationships.

This week I’m celebrating my fourth birthday since hubby’s been gone.  The last three were okay, and friends tried their best to make them special, but there was still that sadness that he isn’t here. Mom & Dad and his dad aren’t either.  This year is one of those birthdays that ends in 5 or 0, so it’s time to do it up right.  I knew if I really wanted to celebrate, then I needed to initiate the celebration. Thus, I’m throwing myself a party.  (To be continued after the party….)

 

I learned a lot this weekend, throwing my own birthday party.  I learned that the people who truly care about you and are able (key point) will come from very far away to be there to celebrate the good times and the bad.  This weekend I was blessed to have friends drive in from Florida, Alabama, and Kansas.

I learned that I have a very eclectic group of friends from various points in my life, but that the one thing they all have in common is their friendliness.  At one point during the party I had my pastor, my junior high teacher, two classmates I’ve known since first grade (who were taught by that teacher), my out-of-state friends, my neighbor, a more recent friend who knew no one but me, and some church friends all in the same room.  All of them sat down and talked with each other and introduced themselves. The party went past midnight, and at last count there was somewhere between twenty-five and thirty people who dropped by.

So, what are the things that matter?  Relationships matter.  The Golden Rule matters. Gratitude matters.  Honesty matters.  Doing what matters to you matters.

Some may scoff at the idea of throwing myself a party, but the time has come for me to make my own happiness, and not to look to others to do it for me.  I choose to be happy this year.  Having my friends and family around makes me happy.  I knew my family would be unable to celebrate with me (but wow, they send the funniest cards and that’s the next best thing, just knowing they took the time to remember.) so I just made a Facebook event and tossed it out there that I was opening the party room and let the chips fall where they may.  The result?  I had a very happy birthday, and my heart is filled with gratitude for the relationships that stand the test of time.

That’s what matters most.   You are remembered by your deeds.  My friends are true friends indeed.

Being a Bulldozer

Have you ever watched a bulldozer at work? It puts down its scoop and powers through, moving whatever is in its wake.  Rocks? Boulders? Ruts? Valleys? Hills?  They’re nothing.  The machine just keeps going. It may stop every once in a while for the driver to try to figure out the next move, but once it’s going, it just keeps going.  It’s like the Energizer Bunny of machinery.

Building a new life after becoming a widow can make one feel like a bulldozer.  You don’t have a choice but to keep powering through.  For those of us who are widowed at a relatively young age or, as in my case, in middle age, it can be a really difficult trek.  Most women my age are either retiring, planning their retirement, enjoying empty nest, or even enjoying grandchildren! How many 50-somethings do you know who have to begin a completely new career, and not by their own choice? And while what I’m doing now is a good fit for my skill set, these days I’m having a bit of a pity party.

WARNING: RANT AHEAD! (And yes, I’ll take some cheese with this w(h)ine!)  I seem to be living through the screen these days, watching everyone else have lives on Facebook or via email, while my days are simply get up, eat, go to work, come home, sleep, and do it all over again.  I’m averaging 10+ hour days, six days a week, and no, it’s not by choice.  Being in management, I’m the fallback person who has to make sure the customer is happy and things are done.  So, when I finally get home around 8pm and sit down to relax for two hours or so before bed, I log on to Facebook and see the fun everyone else is having.  I see photos of my great-nieces and nephews who I’ll rarely see, family who live too far away, friends going on vacation and enjoying trips with their spouses, and the anger settles in.  This should have been our time! It wasn’t supposed to be this way! Now, here it is, September, and once again, I had no summer.

It’s been 3 1/2 years, and I have no idea where the time has gone.  One week blends in with the next and suddenly, another month has passed.  Before I know it, another season is gone, and then another year has passed. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what I have to show for it.  Yes, I know. He’d be proud of me. Yes, I know. Supposedly I’m so strong. But at what point does surviving become surthriving?

I’m tired of being a bulldozer.  I’m not sure what machine I should be instead. Is there one that gets to rest sometimes and lets the big boys do the hard stuff?  If so, that’s what I want to be.  Actually, I just want a life. I know I can’t have the life I used to have, but I sure would like some time to enjoy what’s left of this one.

Holidays

 

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This month starts the months of holidays, beginning with this weekend’s Labor Day, progressing through my birthday, then on to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, then into the hardest months of his birthday, the anniversary of his death, and Valentine’s Day.

Most people would think that by now, three and a half year’s later, it would either be easier or I’d have found a “new normal”.  And in many ways, I have.  This  year, I’ve decided to throw myself a birthday party.  When it comes down to it, I’m tired of missing out, tired of crying, and tired of waiting for or thinking others will care or do anything.

That probably sounds harsh, and I know in some ways it is, but it boils down to that I’m not anyone else’s responsibility, nor should I be.  But you know what makes it all so difficult?  That after 25 years of belonging to someone, I no longer belong to anyone. Oh, sure, I’m still my son’s mother, but my job for him is to be his soft place to land, not his responsibility.  That will happen in another 25 or 30 years.

Of all these holidays, my birthday will probably be the easiest.  We always did holidays up big, even Halloween.  We’d plan our costumes, go to a party, and have fun giving out candy.  The other holidays have become non-events. Thanksgiving has gone from a huge celebration with parents, siblings, and a table surrounded by people to just me with a turkey leg watching movies.  Christmas is quiet now, and of course, I buy my own gifts.

It makes for a difficult reality and pulls between memories of special times, what should have been, and what life is now. Most of the time I feel like a giant bulldozer, just powering through.  Even now, after three and a half years, I can’t help thinking that if I just make it past this date, then the next stretch will be easier.   The reality is that it will never be the same. And while I’m waiting for whatever it will become, it’s still just a time to get through. The one saving grace (pun intended) has been my faith. At least with each of these holidays, there’s a holy day associated, and I can put my focus on that.

Again, I’m not posting this for sympathy or to beg invitations or suggestions. This is just reality. For now.  And for now, I have a party to plan! If I want things to change, then I know I have to instigate the change.

 

Downsizing

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of about 50 or so retirees about organizing and downsizing.   We spent about two hours together, and they asked some really good questions!

It’s easy to tell someone else what they should do with their things.  It’s easy to take a step back and figure out a solution when you have the advantage of objectivity.  It’s a totally different situation, however, when you’re faced with going through the possessions of someone who’s passed and/or going through all of the things in your home, where you built your life together.

As with all the other parts of this messy grief journey, there is no right or wrong time to decide to go through things.  I actually went through his clothes rather quickly after he passed, motivated by the fact that if I did it, then I could have the entire closet and no longer have to carry off-season clothes to storage.  And it wasn’t horribly difficult since by that time his clothes had lost his scent, and I knew I wasn’t getting rid of all of them.  I’m a big believer in finding ways to honor memories, so my favorites of his ties are now a quilted medallion on my bed, and the majority of his shirts are becoming blankets for my son and me.

Surprisingly (and yes, you can laugh because I did after the fact), it was cleaning out the underwear drawer that brought tears.  That and tossing his toothbrush.   See? Grief is weird.

I have no problem downsizing my own possessions. I’ve realized stuff is stuff and have come to the realization that if it doesn’t bring me joy or it doesn’t serve a purpose, then I don’t need it.  Going through his things, however, is a totally different story, and while I’ve done the majority of it, there’s still some left.

It’s now been three and a half years since his death, my life is totally different, and I’m making decisions about my future. That means the time has come to go through his garage.  My son and I went through it once, just to see what was there and to figure out some things, but now I’m faced with really making the decisions of what to keep and what to sell. Going through his tools and gear seems like an invasion of his space, and even now, it’s difficult.  It’s not a weepy-heart-wrenching kind of difficulty but instead more of the feeling of an absolute ending type of difficulty.   He loved that garage.  It was his workshop. His space.  He had big plans for that space.  Oh, and not long before he died he also knocked over the container that held all the screws and nails, etc. and never picked them up.  So, yeah, I’m just a little ticked that even now I’m having to clean that up!

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Through the years, he and I spent the majority of our vacation time working on our home, so I know how to use the majority of the tools.  The question is, how many screw drivers of various sizes do I need? And will I ever need a table saw? And what of all those various and sundry screws, nails, picture hangars?

Part of me knows it needs to be done and I think I’m ready to tackle it, but it sure feels like an invasion not only of this things, but the shutting down of his dreams.  It’s not fair. Sometimes I wonder if the feeling of “He should be here” will ever completely fade. At least now, instead of being crippled by that thought, I find myself determined to do what needs to be done.  I even went out and bought a couple of tools for myself!

 

 

 

Things I Love/Things I Miss

There are certain things I’ve come to love about this new life of mine. In no certain order they are:

  • A quiet house
  • An hour (or two) to read in bed late at night or early in the morning
  • Time to write/compose when the ideas hit
  • Making plans, or as my bestie calls it, “Pondering pleasant possibilities”
  • Downsizing and realizing that stuff is stuff. “You are remembered by your deeds.”(Although I still have an affinity for clothes and shoes…… )
  • Freedom to be spontaneous. (Go out? Tonight? Sure!)
  • Watching Cardinals baseball on TV whenever I want.
  • The changes in me.

 

But along with all the change, there are some things that I will always miss:

  • The sound of him coming in the garage and walking in the door saying, “Hey, everybody!”
  • The feel of his hugs
  • Hugs, in general. (You don’t realize how much you’re touched until it’s gone.)
  • Evening walks uptown, holding hands
  • Going for drives, just to talk.
  • Cooking big meals
  • Holidays (they’re non-events now)
  • Working on projects around the house together.
  • Hikes and bike rides. (The places I like to go aren’t safe alone.)

Grief never leaves you, you just gradually learn to get back to living, even though the ache is still there.  Sometimes it even still consumes you. But the good news is, it does get easier sometimes, and it’s okay to find new things to like and do, even though you still miss what used to be.