Holidays

 

holidays-1314669_960_720

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!

hisworkbench

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.

A New Sense of Self

This month marks 3 1/2 years since he passed away unexpectedly.  Some people say not to watch the calendar and not to keep track.  I’ve tried that, but I have to look at dates every day at work, so it sneaks up and I see it.  Does it hit me as hard as it used to? Not so much anymore, but it does cause me to take a look back at how things have changed.

Believe it or not, I’m an introvert.  That basically means that I get my energy from being alone. I must have my alone time to feel centered again.  Those who know me would probably argue that point, knowing that I think nothing of speaking to large groups of people, or playing and singing in front of hundreds, but it is, in fact, true.

I’ve also battled anxiety, especially in my youth. I was so incredibly shy!  My mom liked to tell the story of how she was at the doctor and had taken me with her when I was small. We’d gone to the same doctor for forever and it was a small practice with two nurses, both of whom I’d known my whole short life.  Mom was in some kind of contraption for her neck and something happened and she told me to go open the door to the room and get one of the nurses, and I refused! I was too scared!   I was always afraid of not knowing what to say in unfamiliar situations.

That anxiety returned after hubby’s death.  I had to do so many things outside of my comfort zone that the anxiety almost shut me down.  But I had no choice. There were things that had to be done; things like going to the Social Security office when I had no clue what I was really doing there.

I’m an organizer and a planner. I do fine if I know what I need to do and when to do it. Play in front of a crowd? Sure, if I know what I’m playing.  Speak to a group? Sure, if I know the topic and I’m prepared.  Walk into an unknown place with unknown people and ask for what I want or need?  Not so much, or at least, not until this last year.

It goes back to Find a Way or Make a Way, or as I sometimes say, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to do things that make you anxious. Last year this time, I had to go visit schools for the first time with my job.  All I had to do was go to the school and ask if the principal or counselor was available. If not, then I gave the information to the secretary.  Easy, right? Not last year! Last year I made myself almost sick with anxiety over this task.  This year? No big deal.

What changed it for me?  Someone told me to think about what I had to do and ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  “Is the world going to end if that happens?”  With that perspective, and the ability to think about what I had to do, as well as role-play various scenarios in my mind, I’ve become stronger and more comfortable with new situations.

I often wonder if hubby would recognize me these days.  It’s amazing not only how much my life has changed, but how much I have changed.  I’m still an introvert.  I still need my alone time. But the things that scared me even six months ago no longer cause that anxiety.

It’s hard to go from being a “we” to a “me” after more than twenty years, and maybe I won’t stay just a “me” forever, but for now, I’m okay with it.

Struggles: Loneliness and Rebuilding

I’m often asked what the worst part of this journey is, and at this point, I can honestly say it’s the loneliness.

Not everyone is blessed  to have family or their closest friends living close by.  I have good friends here in town, but we’re all still at that age where there’s work, family commitments, and let’s face it, they still have their spouses. Some even still have kids at home, or they have grandkids already.

Again, I’m not looking for sympathy. This is just yet another part of this journey.

I hear all the time, “At least you still have your son at home with you.”  True, but this is his time. He’s a young adult. He has his entire life ahead of him. It’s not his job to worry about me, hang out with me, or even attempt to take the place of his dad by doing things around the house. It’s simply not his responsibility.  Does he help out? Thankfully, yes! He’s proven time and again that he learned a lot from his dad, and there’s not much he can’t do.  He’s also proven that he’s learned from me. He’s a really good cook! But when I was his age, I was beginning my first year of teaching! All of life is ahead!

The flip side of that coin is finding the time to do everything that must be done while rebuilding a new life. As stated before, not everyone gets a windfall financially when their spouse dies.  For me, I was in transition between jobs at the time of his unexpected death. I’ve wound up in an unexpected, though good fitting, position that requires me to work an average of 45 hours a week.  This means I have to pretty much be available seven days a week, as there are programs offered every day and I’m the boss. Not to complain, but I don’t typically get a usual weekend.  I still have responsibilities with the company I own. Consequently, I work full days on Saturdays. Some may see that as a choice, however, I don’t renege on contracts and I need that income.  So, that leaves Sundays for things like groceries, paying bills, yard work, and whatever else needs to be done.

Which leads back to the conundrum of loneliness.  It’s a double-edged sword of responsibility and loneliness. Am I ready to move forward, have fun, and laugh again? Yes. Can I afford it? Not so much, unless it’s things that don’t cost, like hiking or free concerts, etc.   Do I have time? Some would say to make time, but what at cost? How does one make extra hours in a day to do it all?  Taking time means paying for it later.

I’ve found the best I can do is to plan, plan, plan.  I know that, unless something major happens, I probably won’t ever have the luxury of retirement. I do, however, have control over some things, and choices to make. I don’t have to live here. I’m free to make decisions about my future, and to pursue different options and career paths. I could choose to move closer to friends or family.  I could choose to change professions yet again, although at my age, that’s a scary, although possible, thought.

Whatever happens, and however I choose to face these days, it’s a choice I must make alone.

 

 

A Reason?

One of the most hurtful things you can say to someone who has suffered a major loss is, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Really? What’s the reason?

There are so many things people say that can be hurtful to someone traveling this journey.  I could list a hundred of them, as I’ve heard them all, and while every single one of them was said by a well-meaning person, not a single one of them was helpful.

When someone dies, especially unexpectedly, there is no rhyme or reason.

This week, a family in my town has suffered an unimaginable loss caused by a freak accident.  I worry about the kids left behind, after both parents passed away.  I worry about what they’ll really hear amidst all the words spoken to them, what they’ll take to heart, what they’ll remember, and how they’ll process this horrific journey at their young ages.  And I pray no one says to them that everything happens for a reason.

One of my biggest struggles on this journey has been the conundrum of God’s will versus free will.  How does it all work?  I have no clue, and it will probably be the first question I have when it’s my turn to ask Him.  When someone passes unexpectedly, you can’t help but go through the “what ifs” in your mind, even years later.  For me, it’s been, in no particular order:  What if they’d done a chest x-ray earlier? What if he’d been honest about his symptoms?  What if he’d come to bed that last night? What if he’d not been worried about worrying me?

My grandma (or was it dad?) used to tell me, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, there’d be a party in heaven.”

The what ifs can play with you and deeply affect how you face this journey.

Sometimes there are no reasons.  Stuff happens. Accidents happen.  We don’t have to always know the reasons. But we do have to be present to face whatever comes next, and make a choice in how we respond, both for ourselves, and to others.

Find a Way or Make a Way

Many years ago I heard the saying, “Find a way or make a way.” for the very first time. At first, it  turned me off. Was it saying that I should do whatever it takes to reach a goal? But then I realized that it was, in fact, encouraging me to look at things outside the box and think about less than obvious ways to make things happen.  That saying can certainly apply to this journey of widowhood.

The world rocks on its axis when you lose your spouse.  You don’t realize all the little things they do that now become your responsibility. Stupid little things like changing the light bulb in the fixture at the highest point of the vaulted ceiling can become a challenge. Even cutting grass for the first time and buying a new weed wacker can be a challenge, a cause for celebration when you do it successfully, and even bittersweet because, well, there’s always that little bit of the feeling that he should be here and you shouldn’t even have to do these things!

But beyond the mundane day to day tasks, the home repairs, and maintenance that come up, there’s also the task of rebuilding a life without the one person you planned to live the rest of your life with.  And somewhere along this journey, you realize that they did, in fact, live the rest of their life with you, and you can’t help but have a feeling of gratitude among all of the other feelings.

But how to rebuild?  That’s where “find a way or make a way” comes in.  Sometimes life throws you a real curve ball and you realize that your life is not going to be at all the way you planned or hoped.  Maybe that other old saying about never tell God your plans is true! However, no matter what happens, you do get through. You find a way or make a way. And somewhere along this road, you may get a little braver (or a lot), a little more comfortable in your own skin, and you begin to make a way.  A way that is uniquely yours. And you begin to see how everything comes together to make you who you are now.  If you’re lucky, you may even begin to see a glimpse of what you might like the future to be. (But there goes those plans again!)

I am not at all the person I was almost three and a half years ago when he was still here. I’m in a totally different career, and while I’m good at it and it’s a good fit, I can honestly say that while I like it, it doesn’t feed my spirit the way my other career did. Still, I am grateful for what it’s teaching me, and I’m happy to be in a job that positively affects other people and makes a difference.  Here’s hoping it’s just another step on that trip to making a way.

Would it be great if he was still here? Definitely.  But he’s not.  It is what it is now.  Find a way, or make a way, but realize you’re never really alone.

This week I was blessed to spend my vacation time with a group of people who are like family to me. They’ve seen me at my best, my worst, and have helped me travel this journey in a way I never thought possible.  I realized while with them that, for this week at least, I felt truly like myself again. My spirit was filled (in fact, it soared), and for a few days, I was good enough again.  For this week, gratitude was enough.  Will I ever get to do that again? Who knows?  But for now, I’ll find a way or make a way.