Friday, December 20, 2019

After Doing What's Necessary, We Move On To What's Possible

I really wish I could take credit for the title of this blog, but it actually comes from Anne Lamott's brilliant book "Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy" - which I highly recommend. Reading this quote was one of those hair-standing-up-on-your-arm moments and I couldn't wait to share it with this group.

After all, isn't this what we face on this journey?

Widowhood is a long list of necessaries - at least it has been for me. I've met other widows - more evolved widows - who seemed to have their shit together right from the beginning. While I was stuck in approval-mode, hoping to make everyone happy, other widows were saying, "No. I don't want to do that."

I didn't even know that was possible.

We all have have-tos in life, but the necessary stuff gets compounded when you're widowed. Yes, widowed or not everyone has to pay their bills and make sure the kids get to school, but then there's other stuff, too. Now, this list is just my own, so you might not think that these were necessary things, but I sure did.

  1. Feed the kids. Like, every day. For the next 25 years. By yourself.
  2. Get the kids to school. Like, every day. For the next 25 years. By yourself.
  3. Make others feel better about the thoughtless things they say so you don't find yourself completely alone.
  4. Therapy.
  5. Get the dog to the vet and try to get that stupid cone on all by yourself.
  6. Get up in the morning knowing that sleeping in will not be possible until 2030.
  7. Making time to cry in your car.
  8. Give everyone else suggestions for Christmas presents for their spouses knowing you won't get one.
  9. Kids therapy.
  10. Car maintenance. Enough said.
  11. Taxes. On everything.
  12. Decisions. About everything.
  13. Does my dog need therapy?
  14. Unclogging the vacuum.

The list of necessaries goes on and on.

But there does come a point when you get used to it - or at least most of it - and your head starts clearing. Then something else gets added to the list.

Figure out what to do next.

And that's when possibility kicks in.

I don't know if we can really grasp "possible" until the fog clears - and sometimes it's hard to see even then. It's always there, it's just sometimes hidden and nothing hides "possible" better than grief.

"Possible" includes everything from making major life decisions - like moving, switching jobs, going back to school - to little things like taking care of ourselves in a way that REALLY makes us feel taken care of (something that I don't think is possible until we get over the "necessary" part).

I remember talking to my sister a few months after Brad died and saying, "I don't know what to do next." I didn't mean it in a self-defeated way; I felt like everything was open to me and I was overwhelmed. I'd been a stay-at-home mom long enough to make my resume almost obsolete, so my options felt endless. And I had no idea what to do.

Over a decade after losing my husband and raising three kids on my own, I feel a little like I'm moving out of the necessary phase and into the possible. In a few years, my time will be my own in a way that it never has been before. My youngest told me that she was talking to a friend the other day and they were both somewhat in awe of the fact that I've raised the kids completely on my own. But it was necessary.

Now it might be time to see what's possible.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Worst Widow

I think I've just gone from a "mediocre widow" to the worst widow.

Yesterday was my husband's 47th birthday. I was cranky all day and had a panic attack in the middle of the night which has made me tired and cranky today.

It's no secret that I've made some mistakes when it comes to my widowness, most of which I documented in a 300 page book. But yesterday threw me yet again.

To catch some of you up, when Brad died I did everything from suggest we put his ashes in a Bud Light bottle to installing an enormous headstone with the wrong birth date on it. Most of these little issues have made people laugh (mainly my sister), but in the moment I just felt awful.

Which brings me to yesterday.

It was a long day with several work frustrations that were magnified by my general crankiness. I did feel better when my son and I volunteered at a women's shelter and served dinner (although, I was sad that my daughters couldn't join us). I felt that was the perfect way to spend what we used to refer to as Daddy Day.

I got home and flopped on the couch and started scrolling through social media where I saw my sister-in-law had posted several pictures of Brad in remembrance of his birthday with a subject line that generally said, "I can't believe it's been 12 years."

I kind of rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "It's been thirteen years. Don't you know how long your brother's been gone?"

(Brenda - if you're reading this, I'm sorry for my attitude. If it makes you feel any better, at least you didn't have to deal with me in person all day because I was pretty much like this to everyone.)

Then, and I don't know why I did this because I was so sure I was right, I pulled up my calculator app and did the math.

Oh, for crying out loud. It's been 12 years.

I felt sick. How could I have gotten this wrong???? How could I still be making widow mistakes 13 - wait, no. Twelve - years later???? How could I have married an astronautical engineer when I can't even do basic math?????

I went to bed last night feeling even more depressed than when the day started. And I know that this feeling will go away and possibly be funny in about a week. But right now, I feel like the worst widow.

And to Brad - I'm sorry, sweetie. But you knew I couldn't add when you married me.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Widowhood and Back-to-School: People Aren't Meant to do This Alone

A big part of me has always hated this time of year. I've written about it before - how nothing screams the passage of time as a single parent quite like back-to-school. All the pictures of two parents hugging children on social media, happy families going to open houses where excited kids run the halls looking for classrooms - all of it has always made me feel so very widowed.

But after 13 years, I thought I had it licked. Don't get me wrong - the first few years were horrible and I still tear up at any school awards ceremonies, wishing my husband could be there with me.  But I got used to it. I'd feel sad, but it wouldn't overwhelm me.

Not like this year.

As I write this, I'm sitting alone in a hotel room after dropping my daughter off at college. I'll fly home tomorrow, where I will hug my two younger kids and be grateful for my remaining time with them at home like I have never been before. Last night, I optimistically thought I'd have time on my own this afternoon to explore the city and do something fun.

At 11:00 this morning, I decided my time would be better spent resting and allowing myself to cry.

Millions of parents are going through what I'm going through this weekend - I know this because the Targets and Walmarts near my daughter's university are completely cleaned out. They look like war zones. The thing is that not all of them are going through it alone. And that has brought my grief all the way back to those first years of preschool and elementary school when I was a newly widowed parent, completely devastated that I was experiencing this all by myself.

It made me think of something that I wrote in my book about how, while others will offer help, no one is "in it" like your spouse is. No one is as invested in your children as they are. So, without that partner, you just don't have the same support.

I know that even with a partner, this time of year can be devastating (in a positive way - so weird). Last night at a moving ceremony, I thought the person behind me was laughing. I finally turned just a little to give them the stink-eye and realized she was sobbing. So, it's not like the hurt is reserved for the widowed.

Sitting next to my daughter today, just before we parted, I felt like I did bringing her to school for the first time. Her hand in mine was the size of an adult, but it still felt like she was in kindergarten to me. It was a surreal moment when I left her, like dropping her off for summer camp. I had a couple of years where all the kids went to camp for two weeks at the same time and, while it was nice to have time to myself, I had serious anxiety when I left them. Your family makes your home no matter where you are - I learned that when I said goodbye to them.

And today I left a little piece of my home in a dorm room with two other girls - but the pain feels even more acute.

As I got into my car this morning after the final ceremony, I thought about the other parents getting into there's. Were they crying together? Were they just talking about what to do with the rest of their day? Were they sitting in silence, wondering if their relationship would be better or worse now that the buffer of a child was gone?

I so desperately wanted Brad sitting next to me, sharing this experience as only the other parent could. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel like I had this widow thing under control. I started sobbing as I pulled out of the parking garage and have kept up a steady stream since then - I wish he could be here so we could comfort each other, or even distract each other.

I've gotten very good at being alone and it's something that I crave in many cases. But what I'm experiencing right now should never be experienced alone. The growth and transition of a family should be experienced by a WHOLE family and I can't help but feel the sorrow of two parents right now, because one isn't here to go through it.

My daughter has been dry-eyed and excited this weekend and that has made all of this a little more bearable. I've been doing my best to shield her from my own grief. I'm sure there will be moments of homesickness for her, just like I'm homesick for her already. And I'm so grateful for her enthusiasm and her ability to jump into this next chapter with both feet. There's something I can learn from that.

For a process that's part of our evolution, this seems downright inhumane. I've had many moments when I've thought, "I can't do this." In fact, I almost wanted to leave her at some points and just walk out because this was all too much to bear (which makes no sense - I'm sad because I don't want to leave her, but my body wanted to run away? Explain that to me, therapist).

I have no idea what comes next because, like childbirth, you can't explain something like this to someone else - you just have to plow your way through it. Honestly, if we could accurately explain childbirth, no one would have babies. If I could truly put into words how painful sending a kid to college is, no one would get past high school. So, I guess this just has to be part of the parenting experience.

Will I feel better when I get home tomorrow? How long with this grief process last? Will my heart ever feel whole again?

I don't know.

So, now I'm going to completely clean this hotel room out of tissues and allow myself to sit still and just feel what I need to feel (which is not easy for me) and hope that our next version of the new normal isn't hard to find.

Because right now I feel more than a little lost.