The Holiday season

Yes, I’ve already written about the upcoming holidays , but I find I have more to say on the topic.

This will be my fourth Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s without hubby.  There are those who say that by now it shouldn’t bother me. By now I should have made new traditions, “moved on”, “stop dwelling on it”.  But, as anyone who’s on this journey knows, as much as you may “fake it til you make it” on the outside, on the inside, it’s still there.

My first Christmas without hubby was also my first Christmas at home without any family here. My husband died almost seven months to the day after my mother, so that first Christmas without Mom we took a trip rather than stay home and dwell on all the changes.  My family always did Christmas up big, and I was used to being surrounded by lots of family over the holidays. I went from the equivalent of “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Christmas” to a lone wolf.

I’ve tried many different things these last few years. I’ve tried keeping our traditions, just for my son and me. I’ve opened my door to anyone who needs a place to celebrate.  I’ve accepted invitations to go to other’s homes.  I’ve tried to forget it and just sit home and watch movies.  No matter what I do, it’s still not the same, and the void is there.  I can be in a room full of people, laughing and appearing to have a good time on the outside, but on the inside ready to run away.  I do okay trying to find the blessings and I’m grateful to those who reach out and include us in their family celebrations.  It’s just that “the new normal” is difficult at times, and this season is the worst.

After we get through these holidays, the anniversary of his death rolls around again.  How it can be four years, I have no clue. I have no idea how I’ve managed this long without him.  And it seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye.

The pain isn’t as crippling as it once was, but the loss never goes away.  And with the void comes the “He should be here” thoughts and, while less than it was, the anger that he’s not.

When you’ve lost almost everything, you have to make the choice to look for the blessings.  I was blessed to see both of my brothers this weekend.  Family is everything, and while spread all over the map, any time with any of my siblings is treasured time.  This Thanksgiving my son and I will join friends and their family.  They’re a large, loving family who we’ve come to love dearly, and it will be great to be in that environment and feel the love. The loss will be there, but so will the love. And that’s what matters.

I….. am…. blessed.


Autumnal Grief Spiral

I don’t know what it is about this time of year that brings it all back, but every year about this time, it comes back like a tidal wave.  There really is no reason for it. There’s no landmark date on the calendar, no memories associated with October,  nothing to really trigger anything.  Sure, Facebook memories remind me that he started getting sick around this time, and hindsight reminds me that it really was the beginning of the end, but that shouldn’t cause it.

Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the upcoming dreaded holidays.  Holidays that really aren’t anything special anymore.  (More on that another time.)  But again, after over three and a half years, that shouldn’t be bringing the tears to the surface so easily.

As one of my widow friends said tonight, “I just miss him and need one of his hugs.”  Yep, that pretty much sums it up.  Sometimes, nothing else will do but him, and he’s not here, and then I feel bad for being so selfish.

It all just goes to show there is no sense or logic to grief.  It ebbs and flows, and can suck you back in anytime it wants to.   Every year this time, I wish to just jump ahead to March, and bypass it all.  Even when I try to not think about it, I find myself moodier than normal, weepier than usual, and there it is again.  There’s only one word for it:

Fear vs. Reality: The More Things Change

During the first year after he died, everything scared me. And I mean EV-ER-Y-THING!  At the time of his unexpected death, I was basically unemployed. I had just begun my own business six weeks before, so it was new with no clients, only a business plan.  He died relatively young (58), and we were just preparing to be empty nesters. I know now that  he probably figured he had time to plan for the future, to add to his retirement and to get some life insurance, after we paid for college for our son.  As a result, I was starting out on my own with next to nothing. Very scary.

Now, almost four years later, I can honestly say I’m much braver and I’ve done a pretty good job of rebuilding for myself.  But there are still things that scare me.  I know if I look too far into the future, I will start to panic.  But I also realize I have to be realistic.  One can only live day-to-day for so long before realizing the situation is permanent and preparations for the future must be made.

I’m very blessed that I’ve been able to stay in our home this long.  Reality, however, is that it might not be the best decision to stay here long-term.  The yard is too much for me to handle and I can’t pay someone to do it for me.  That reality brings the scary back.  I’ll have to finish going through his things, including his garage workshop.

My son and I went through the garage once, about a year or so after hubby died. But now it’s time to figure out what I really need to keep and what I can sell. It’s time to let go of some more of his things. And as I was standing there going through the paint tray of assorted nails, screws, and God-knows-what that he spilled all those months ago and never picked up, I realized that it’s okay.  I’m not losing more of him, I’m letting his things be of use to other people.  It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult or emotional, but it means I’m ready to face that portion of reality.  And I’m kind of getting excited to see what’s next.  I’m in no rush to move.  But I am ready to start looking and see what God has in store for me next.

It’s still scary to look too far into the future. Retirement?  Probably won’t happen.  As the saying goes (or was it Dad who said it?), “I’ll be working the morning of my funeral and have appointments the next day!”  But I can do my best to start to figure it all out.

There’s still fear, but the reality is so far, so good.

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.