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.

 

 

Tough Times

As I referenced before, somewhere along this journey someone said to me, “You have a 100% success rate for getting through rough days.”  It’s true! I wish I could say, “Every day above ground is a good one,” but the reality is, there continue to be some tough times.

Again, I’m not looking for sympathy or having my own personal pity party, although at times it’s tempting, but I really don’t have the patience with myself for that anymore. The reality is, rough days still happen, but now, nearly 3 1/2 years post loss, I find myself just powering through them.

When I started writing this entry, it was the 4th of July.  That was always “our holiday”.  Why? Because July 6th is our wedding anniversary.  We always joked that it was so nice for people to put on such a great party for us each year.  That first 4th of July is when we had our bachelor/bachelorette parties. Every year thereafter, we’d go to the festival uptown and to “our spot” for fireworks, usually joining up with the rest of my family.  Up until Mom died, four years ago today, we always had family come home for the 4th as part of their summer vacation.  Always a good time.

There are so many events that are still difficult, even this far out. I was naive in thinking that this year’s anniversary would be easier, since I’d made it through what would have been our 25th last year. This year, I decided it would be a regular day and went to work, per usual. But as 10:00 came near, my mind couldn’t help but remember our wedding day.  I made it through, of course, but it still was rough.

Facebook can be particularly rough. Again, let me repeat: I’m not looking for sympathy or pity, this is just the way it is.  Seeing everyone’s photos surrounded by family, out with friends, enjoying grandkids, going on vacation…. are all difficult for those who are alone, and for those who are faced with rebuilding their lives. When you’re widowed in middle age, there just aren’t too many to share the journey.  You watch your friends celebrate anniversaries you’ll never have. It’s tough. You see vacation photos and wonder if you’ll ever have that kind of fun again, and you see family photos and wish you had family closer.

Tough times happen.  It’s part of the journey.  Some months are rougher than others.  July is particularly rough for me, even this far out.  Part of me is ready for new things and new adventures, and the other part can’t help but think that he should be here. It’s a double-edged sword.

Tough times, rip tides, landmines, whatever you call them, they still come out of nowhere at times. They can still knock the breath out of you, but thankfully, although still intense, they don’t last as long as they used to.  And it’s not long before you’re refocused on the future again.  Maybe those vacations will happen some day.  Maybe some day there will be someone to have fun with again.  And maybe some day July won’t be as painful, but just a month to look back at past events and be grateful that they happened.

 

Onwards and Upwards

Onwards and upwards has been my saying since this whole journey began.  Why?  Because it seems to motivate me.  Every time something happens and I get through it, I find myself thinking these words.  It doesn’t mean I like it, but it means I survived whatever was thrown at me.

There are many different ways to interpret these words. They always make me picture a mountain with various paths for climbing.  Sometimes you have to switch paths mid-climb, other times you might need someone’s help to get over an obstacle, but most of the time, once you’ve accomplished it, you’re just a little bit further along than you were before.

Not everyone traveling this messy grief journey chooses to move forward.  For me, after a few months, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere by just staying in my recliner and wallowing in tears and memories.  I’m one of those people who has to be productive; has to do something.  I’ve never been one to sit around too much, although, as an introvert, I do need my down time.  So, after a few months, I got tired of myself.  It didn’t mean it hurt any less, or that the memories weren’t still throwing me back into the thick of it, but I needed to do something.  I think the first step I made was that spring, when it came time to switch out the closet from fall/winter clothes to spring/summer.  I realized that if I moved his clothes, I could have the entire closet full of all seasons of clothes and no longer have to trek up and down the stairs to make the switch. Closet space is definitely a motivator for me!  Besides, his clothes had long since lost his scent, but yet it was a very difficult decision. Luckily, I found a way to keep some of his clothes, without having them take up space. One of my best friends agreed to make blankets for us out of his dress shirts, and a quilt out of some of his ties.  Once I started going through things, it was a bit easier knowing I wasn’t truly getting rid of all his things, and I soon took over all the drawers of the dresser and chest of drawers, too.  Onwards and upwards.

I also had to do something about an income. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone inherits a windfall when someone passes.  After all, who plans to die unexpectedly at 58 years old? I had quit my job of almost 18 years just 9 months before, which turned out to be a blessing as it allowed me to spend quality time with my mother before she passed away, plus time to work on clearing out our family home.  But, with hubby’s death, the financial fears soon hit.  Onwards and upwards. Time to get things moving! And, while my initial plan didn’t work out, in the long run I’ve landed in a meaningful position that uses my skill set very well.  God is good.

Then there’s the house. Wow, you don’t realize how much your spouse does until they’re no longer here! Not only was there the hurdle of figuring out if I could stay in our home, but there were all the little repairs to be done, the never-ending yard work, and all the bills that roll in.  Talk about anxiety!  Plus, everything still looked exactly as it did when he was still here. That was another tough decision. Sometimes you realize that if you’re going to keep moving onwards and upwards, you need to make changes so that the emptiness and loss don’t drag you down day after day. Just moving a piece a furniture or changing a wall hanging can change the view from what it was when he was here, and make a physical reminder that he’s not going to walk through the door saying, “Hey, everybody!”

One of the first things I did was make a list of all the little things I accomplished on my own. It was quite empowering!  Figuring out how to change the lightbulbs in the fixture on the vaulted ceiling.  Having the railroad ties removed outside and the wall and steps put in (a project we’d planned for that spring).  The first big change I made was to repaint the master en suite.  When we painted initially, we went with a color that he liked that I never really cared for (but I never told him that, since we finally found something he agreed to).  There was no reason not to change it now, and while the furniture placement and items hanging on the wall haven’t changed, that room is now my haven. Since then, I’ve repainted most of the interior of the house and redecorated some. It’s enough the same to still feel like our home, but changed enough to feel like mine.

Having suffered through a lot of losses in a short amount of time, I soon realized that “stuff” was no longer important. I made the decision to surround myself with things that have meaning for me and that make me happy.  Over the years, I’ve collected Santas, as in I had three curio cabinets plus more in storage, totaling over 100 of them.  I’ve since downsized that collection to just one curio and a few bigger ones to pull out during the holidays. Onwards and upwards.

The journey isn’t over yet. I still face the difficult task of going through his garage workshop, and figuring out what tools to keep or give to our son.  Even now, that’s a tough job to think about, and every time I set foot in there, I know it needs to be done, but I just can’t start it yet.  That’s his sacred space. I know I’ll tackle it soon, if only a little at a time, but unlike the other things I’ve done, this one won’t feel as productive, it will only feel like losing another part of him.

Onwards and upwards doesn’t just apply to stuff, though.  As I look back over the last few years, I often wonder if he’d recognize me.  I think nothing now of going to a restaurant and having a meal by myself or going to a movie alone.  I never would have done that before. It would have caused a major anxiety attack.  I think of all the things I do in my job now that just a year or so ago would have freaked me out.  Making calls and just talking to people, visiting schools and businesses…. that all was so out of my comfort zone before.  I’m still not as brave as many of my friends. I know others who travel alone and have no reservations (pun intended) about it.  That’s something I couldn’t do. Just last night I passed up free tickets to an awesome concert because I just couldn’t do it alone, even though I knew I’d run into people I knew once I got there. New situations still scare me and the what ifs take over my thoughts.  Still, compared to the beginning, I know I’ve come a long way becoming more self-assured and assertive.

Holidays are still rough, and sometimes Facebook is not my friend as I watch friends celebrate anniversaries and milestones we’ll never have. I’m not looking for pity, it’s just how it is.

Looking too far into the future can be scary, but I’ve learned to take each day as it comes. There are still days where it feels like I’ve backslid a bit, but just like that mountain trek, it’s always onwards and upwards.