Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grief and Houdini

I am over halfway through the book, "The Secret Life of Houdini - The Making of America's First Superhero" by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. Harry Houdini was extremely devoted to his mother and was deeply affected by her death. He apparently would often wake up in the middle of the night and call out loud, "Mama, are you here?" When he received no response he would sigh with disappointment and fall back to bed morosely. Even five years after her death, he still suffered great feelings of loss. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "I have worked hard and faithfully, and never knew what it was to shirk work, until one morning I awoke and found that my Mother had departed - and since then I 'loaf' in my work."

I find it very interesting and informative that Houdini also makes references to how he is affected by his mother's death around the date of her passing. He writes, "I have not recovered from my Mothers Loss, and July 8 was the last time I saw and [held] Her in my arms kissing Her a genuine Goodbye, and about the 17 of each month the feeling comes back to me, and I get melancoly [sic] moods." On the second anniversary of her death, he purposely stayed in the room "in which My Darling Mother went to Sleep for Evermore."

Houdini was friends with the "The Call of the Wild" author, Jack London and his wife, Charmian. When Jack died at only the age of 40, he immediately sent a telegram to Charmian. While she was in New York 11 months later, she attended one of Houdini's shows and met him afterward. He appeared somewhat shocked and upset that she was looking "so well and blooming" that soon after her husband's death. She responded defiantly with "I REFUSE to be beaten! I am going to put in whatever years life still hold for me as profitably in the pursuit of happiness as I possibly can. You have lost and suffered. An I not right in my attitude?"

Again, I found this reaction to be very interesting. Even in 1917 two very different reactions to death and grief are at play and at odds here. Houdini doesn't feel his friend's wife should be "over" her grief while Charmian has adopted a mindset of moving forward despite her pain and looking for happiness in the future. I was just blown away by this very small part of the book - probably most readers find it somewhat interesting and continue reading without much further thought but it really impacted me in many ways. I am most struck by:

1. Houdini's love and devotion for his mother and his acknowledgment that the grief lingered long after her death.

2. For the courage of Jack London's wife to forge ahead meeting life head on and with the specific intent of pursuing happiness (and not feeling guilty with herself for this attitude).

Interesting that Houdini was upset with Charmian for not grieving enough as he saw fit. After mulling all of this over I have settled in on my conclusion. I think that we all need to grieve in our own ways and for the time we need. I have come to believe that the grief over my losses will forever be incorporated into my life and they've become who I am. But at the same time, I also want to move ahead and experience much more happiness. Debbie Ford puts it so perfectly in her book "Spititual Divorce" by asking, "In this new situation, how can I be happy and have a great life?" Like Houdini I want to honor my losses. But like Charmian and Debbie Ford I am ready to ask this question and to seek the answers.

I pay tribute to Harry Houdini on this Halloween for the mastery of his magic, his talent, devotion to family, work ethic, creativity, courage, honesty and patriotism - all true measures of a great man and true American legend.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Haunted Memories

Six years ago on Halloween, my husband had been dead for just six days. The week following his death was filled with me making the long-distance arrangements for his funeral and then for the local Memorial Service at his school, which was held on Nov. 11th. I continued through the week as best I could, even attending the boys' school Halloween parties. As we left the school entrance after the festivities, I saw a number of fathers entering the building or waiting outside for their children to come out. I was overcome with a realization of profound sadness that my sons would never have such interaction with their father again. It was wrenching and the first time that I really understood what this loss would be like, what we would be forever more missing. Those dads had taken off early from work to take their children Trick or Treating. The excitement and family pride I saw displayed between these dads and their children pulled at my heartstrings.

Later, in the evening I continued the ritual I had with my husband by taking the boys out for Trick or Treating in my parent's neighborhood but my heart really wasn't in it and it was terribly painful to be walking the dark, cold streets without him. But as I did so, I thought of him and kept up the effort for the sake of my sons.

When we got home, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. putting together photo collage boards to bring to the funeral the next day, Nov. 1. My family insisted on driving us and we all drove in a group caravan style out-of-state. I won't dwell on the funeral details since they involve painful elements from the fact that my husband had a first wife who pulled her own little show. I did the best to ignore such nonsense. In the end, we all got through it and my husband received a fitting local tribute in his hometown. That was his due and it was my duty to hold it together and act dignified.

Afterward, we stopped at a local truckstop for dinner and since it was October, they had some Octoberfest specials. I was struck by the surreal quality of this dinner. Everyone enjoying brats and beer, laughing away. I held my wine glass up and made a toast to my husband.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Day He Died

My husband died of Hodgkin's Lymphoma. When he was first diagnosed, the doctor told us we should be happy for the diagnosis because it is the "easiest" cancer to cure - the best cancer to have if you're going to have it. I remember thinking at that moment, that most people only live two years after their diagnosis. I wasn't reassured by the doctor's optimism.

My husband's cancer was very aggressive and resistant to all the conventional treatment - he endured rigorous chemo and radiation. So he also underwent a stem cell transplant and was given a clean bill of health in April, 2003. As soon as that came in I started fertility treatment with the sperm we had banked for two years. The insemination and first in vitro attempts were unsuccessful. But I so much wanted another baby, we scheduled a second try at in vitro for the fall. In August, my husband became ill basically overnight. One day he was robust and healthy - the next run down and clearly sick. He complained of a terrible back ache. His doctor was on vacation which didn't help the siutuation. His office wasn't cooperative over the phone as I tried to describe my husband's terrifying symptoms. They kept telling me he was fine and to see the doctor when he returned. When it became clear that he had lost probably 20 pounds in a matter of days I took him in to the ER. It looked as though the cancer had returned. Just three months after the all clear!

My husband started a new round of chemo and plans were made for a second stem cell transplant. He had a couple of brief stays in the hospital that August and at the end of the month went in for some intensive chemo. He never was released as was planned. In mid-September he became very ill and almost died. I remember having a terrible feeling that all was not right with him and that he was close to death but none of the medical staff advised me of this. It was only after he pulled out of the"dark place" as he later described it that I was told they hadn't thought he would survive.

There were then a few weeks of relative stability. He went to rehab and although weak, was coherant and alert. I went ahead with the in vitro, administering all of the numerous injections on my own, etc. This attempt was also unsuccessful and at the same time my husband again became very ill. I decided to not tell him about the failed in vitro to spare him the sadness. Shortly thereafter, my husband's mind began to falter and he started to lose consciousness. There was another rough night where he almost died and he was put on life support and transferred to ICU. During this time, as soon as I got to the hospital I would start to cry and would continue nonstop the 7-8 hours I was there. I spoke with every nurse, doctor or technician with tears running down my face. I couldn't stop until it was time for me to go home to get the boys from school. Looking back, I am sure my body releasing the fertility drugs didn't help my emotions or matters. I had a short temper and got into a terrible argument with the old high school girlfriend of my husband who had come to visit him. I am sure that would not have happened if I hadn't just gone through in vitro unsuccessfully. I understand it could be considered selfish to try and become pregnant at that time, but I realized how much I loved my husband and desperately wanted to have another baby with him. It was kind of a way to hold on to hope in the midst of so much sickness and despair.

My husband was in a coma for about two weeks. I spent all day with him in his ICU room rubbing his body, hands and legs. Telling him over and over how proud I was of him, loved him and could not live without him. I begged him not to die. I talked about the boys and said they couldn't live without him either. I thanked him for everything; I apologized for everything. I also brought the boys to see him after school many times. Because 10/20 was my husband's b-day and 10/23 our anniversay, we tried to celebrate with cards, balloons and stuffed animals.

Strangely, the doctors were very optimistic during this period. They believed he had Lyme Disease of all things, which they thought had caused the coma. But then, his doctor personally ran some tests on his own and I was called to the nurse's station. The doctor told me over the phone that the cancer had spread throughout my husband's body and there was no hope for a cure. He wanted to stop all treatment, medication and life support. I requested time to call my husband's family in case anyone wanted to come to the hospital. We then agreed that I would return to the hospital the next day (Sunday) so my sons and I could be with my husband when the support was removed. The doctor was not in agreement with my request for my sons to be present. He tried to change my mind, saying that my husband would probably code very quickly and it might be difficult for the boys to experience. But I remained insistent that the boys be present with him.

We went home around 3:00 in the afternoon so I could begin calling relatives - a terribly trying and hard job to say the least. No one was able to make the trip out of state. The boys were of course very upset and almost beside themselves. Around 6:00 p.m., friends of ours, a married couple and their two boys the ages of our sons stopped by with a casserole. I informed them what was going on and had the errie feeling that they were angels sent in disguise. Shortly after 6:30, the hospital called with the ICU doctor stating, "I am sorry to inform you that your husband passed away at 6:29..." I was also struck by the realization that my husband had spared us all from a difficult situation if we had been present the next day when they removed his life support. I became convinced that he agreed with the doctor in not wanting the boys to witness his immediate death. I ended up thanking him for this.

My friends and their children immediately said they would go to the hospital with us to pray and to help me clear out my husband's room. I was calm enough to drive the van on my own with my girlfriend. The dad took all four boys to a local McDonald's for dinner. When we met them there I saw them all eating through the plate glass window and was struck by the surrealness of the situation. A McDonald's meal in the face of death. My girlfriend and I grabbed sandwiches from the drive through and ate on the way to the hospital.

Once there, we all spent 30 minutes praying and saying goodbye to my husband. I was so proud of all the four boys for their courage and strength in doing this. The doctor had told me they would make him look nice for the occassion (again, what a surreal kind of thing - "we'll clean him up for you to say goodbye...") Everyone kept telling me, "We are sorry for your loss" and I kept replying, "It is a loss for the whole world," since my husband was such a gifted educator.

I vaguely remember meeting with clergy and the staff that handles the details after a death but that is all somewhat foggy. We removed my husband's possessions, gave final goodbyes, hugs and kisses and left the hospital. At home, I did some laundry because my boys wanted to play their fall baseball games the next day as a tribute to their father. It was 2:00 a.m. and I looked out the huge front picture window to see strange burning flames in the front yard. I feared that the scarecrows I had on display were burning but it turned out that some kids had set our wooden mailbox on fire.

When the fire dept. arrived I can only wonder what they really thought of the situation because they asked me why I had been up so late and I related that my husband had died earlier in the evening. How many times does that happen? The emergency crew saw that I was only 44 and my sons just 9 and 10. I briefly wondered if the fire was some kind of sign from my husband but later a social worker who works in hospice assured me that our loved ones never want to frighten us from the beyond so it was not any kind of message or sign - thank goodness! Just a pre-Halloween prank on the wrong night for one to be played.

For a long time I did not remember what happened the next day, Sunday. I eventually asked the girlfriend who had been with me that night about it since they were also on the same baseball team. She told me the games had been cancelled because of the cold and rain. But for many months I truly had no recollection of whether we had played those games or not. Just evidence of how the mind shuts down to protect you from the emotional pain. And to this day I sometimes don't really remember where my husband's tumor was - under his right or left arm? My mind refuses to recall that detail (I think it was the left arm). But at this point who cares and what does it matter anyway. That tumor spread and took away a man too soon from his family, his school, the community and the world.

The night my husband died on October 25, 2003 was the night I stopped that endless crying and started sleeping with every light on in the house (the mailbox fire sure didn't help with that). My eyes became moist again and I was able to turn off most of the lights about six months later. This is the first time I have ever written down the events of that day, although I have reviewed them in my mind and spoken about them. Somehow it seems fitting to do so now. I know there is no great catharsis in doing this - I am just relating how and what happened. But these details should have some place in the story of all of this. And considering I am going backward in my grief work, putting down these details in words has its place and I think will result in eventual healing. This is when, where and how my journey started. Now I need to start going forward again. I believe we need to sometimes go back to the beginning in order to accomplish this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sixth Anniversary

Today is the sixth Anniversary of my husband's death. I have never written about it because at the time of his death we didn't even have a home computer. He used a computer at his job and I did the same. My kids were young enough to use the computer at their school as well. Boy, has a lot changed in those six years!

My husband and I did not have cable (we still don't) because we weren't at home enough for it to be worth the cost. We coached our sons together for many years - baseball and soccer. He sang semi-professionally in fine arts groups and I volunteered in the community, as well as the boys' school. We had such an active and full life together. I would say that is was very rewarding. We felt that we accomplished good things for the world. He taught - I counseled. We gave back. And we still had time to pursue some of our own interests. It was a pretty balanced life.

Blogging has been a bit of a strange experience for me because I have been widowed for awhile. Yet I never really had an opportunity to do the necessary grief work after his death. Life just went forward too quickly and presented us with way too many curve balls. It is funny because the divorce with Husband #2 plunged me right back into grief mode - and in actuality, maybe I had never left it. Anyway, when I post I find it sometimes a little bizarre because although I am not a new widow, many of my feelings are those of one. In certain ways I am a seasoned widow but at the same time a novice one. Evidence that the grief journey is so unique to us all. Certainly not one-size-fits-all!

Today there is a break in the rain and I am going to work at the storage shed. While there, I hope to have some time to contemplate about this day. I'll see what I come up with and where my heart and feelings lead me. This will be the first time that I have done that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reflections & Realizations

Some of the realizations I have been recently experiencing relate to the issues of complicated bereavement and how grief does not just vanish after the first year or with a marriage proposal. Each loss builds upon previous losses - that is one of the reasons I am so hesitant to transfer the boys out of this community and their high school. Our grief journey has been full of numerous losses and disappointments. These boys had a stepfather who talked the talk but didn't even have the decency to say goodbye to them. There's another loss and really abandonment. The financial struggles and having to leave our home are another.

Also, are there limits to what a person can experience? When does another loss become the one that breaks your back when you've had so many? I mention this because all grief and loss is hard. But those of us struggling financially without supportive family have different challenges to bear than those who don't have the same circumstances.

I guess what I am trying to articulate is that it is just not so easy to fully recover and move forward after such losses. Hollywood makes it look a lot easier and smoother than it is. And, I truly believe that the general population and especially those who haven't experienced much hardship do not realize all the complications resulting from the death of a significant other.

Maybe times are changing. Maybe people losing their jobs and homes with the Recession will result in some good by increasing the general public's overall compassion and understanding for others. Maybe that can extend out into the universe so we all become more tolerant and loving to all of humanity. Nice thought...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Drowning Again

I have been pulled under the waves of despondency again. I am grappling with the major decision of remarrying and moving-out-of-state. As the new school term there starts Nov. 30th, this move would be in the upcoming weeks - and I haven't even finished unpacking for this apartment yet! I agonize over transferring my sons out of their high school where they are accepted and popular. One is a Junior, the other a Sophomore. Since my husband's death, all I have focused on is what has been best for my boys. I am trying to save them from more uncertainty, pain and instability. If we move, yes, the financial situation will be better but one will not be able to play boy's volleyball because they do not have that as a high school sport there. He is supposed to be playing varsity volleyball this spring and he has also been asked to try out for the male lead for the spring musical. Not to mention being deprived of completing his Senior year with his class, just a year and a half away. My other son ran varsity track as a Freshman last year - our concerns are that he might not be able to compete athletically coming in as a transfer student. We need to verify that because he is hoping to obtain a college track scholarship.

The community we would be moving into is a larger town surrounded by farmland four hours away. Yesterday, Guyfriend and I battled the relentless rain to look at rental homes. They were rundown and shabby. In fact, the entire town looked that way - tired and sad in the rain. We have been spoiled living in this beautiful community of quaint towns and showcase houses all these years. The need to move is because Guyfriend lost his job and has only been offered this one out-of-state. He does not want to sell his small home because of the terrible market so hopes to rent it out for the time being. That necessitates us living in a rental. When I showed the boys some photos of the homes available, they were less than impressed. "I thought moving was supposed to improve our situation," my oldest remarked as he looked at the homes with disappointment.

There is no question of my feelings or love for Guyfriend. My therapist said that in a way he was a blessing that came out of my divorce. And he and I are well-matched, we get along, we are sexually and physically attracted to one another. No major problems anywhere except for the fact that I have two boys smack dab in the middle of their high school careers and I am worried about all the what ifs that may occur if we move. As if I can even control the future, anyway. We all know how impossible that is but I think that I have been so focused on keeping the boys in this school district because it was about the only thing I could control.

Today is the 18th anniversary of my marriage - married 12 years and now widowed six. On Sunday it will be the anniversary of my husband's death. I wish I could talk to him to ask him what to do. Do I go with the love and financial/marital stability of a new life even though it scares the bejezus out of me? Do I continue to try and protect these boys from what I perceive as pain and suffering? Do I continue to slog along on my own and at least give my boys the stability and predictability of finishing high school here?

My therapist says there is no right or wrong answer here and that is what makes it so difficult. She reminded me how fortunate it is to have met a man who has virtually all of the qualities and values that are important to me - kindness, sense of humor, flexibility, tolerance, optimism, honesty, loyalty, communincation skills, courage, responsible, intelligence. His father died days before his 16th birthday so he has dealt with grief and loss.

I do suspect that if my husband hadn't died, I wouldn't be struggling with all of this. But having faced so much loss, I've gone into some kind of mode where all my devotion and energy has been so centered on my sons. Yes, I do know they'll be gone in a couple of years so I have to consider that. I guess deep down I feel like I'm failing them or selling out for my own gain if we move. When my husband died, all the care and responsibility fell on me. Coming from a neglectful/abusive childhood,I embraced protecting and mothering my sons with even more duty and responsibility - it became a mission of love and devotion.

It helps to write this all out and get what is really inside me. I don't want to hide from this. Life hasn't been easy or fair but so what? That reality doesn't make this decision any easier - maybe it even makes it harder. I so want just a little bit of life to go my way for once. To let the boys at least finish out their high school years in one piece instead of having to face more change and turmoil.

One of the widowhood obstacles I've encountered has been the lack of compassion for my sons. It is like everyone has expected them to bounce back and be resilient. It is like everyone sees past them but not into them. Enough years have passed by now where the loss of their Dad is somewhat overlooked or forgotten and some people don't even know (if we've just met them). But they are still struggling, maybe even more so because they are older, more mature and understand how much they have really lost.

I guess life is just a bunch of trade-offs. A new dad (stable, kind, dependable) but losing one's friends. Guyfriend says he will be able to help me drive the boys around to all their events - but they won't have any (at first anyway) to participate in! What if they don't make any friends or worse off do so with the wrong crowd? Am I being silly for thinking of these things? Wouldn't I be a worse parent if I didn't? It is easy for Guyfriend to reassure me and tell me everything will work out. But these are not his kids - nor have they lived with a dad the past seven years. It has just been us facing some pretty stormy seas together, tossing and turning together on our life raft, hanging on to each other for dear life. We've made it this far...

When I started seeing Guyfriend he had a job and his wife still lived in the same town with their son. She remarried and moved out-of-state, he lost his job. Life's twists and turns played out full force. I am so tired of always having to think and plan and figure out what to do. I want to lie in bed and go to sleep and somehow turn off the turmoil in my head for at least a little bit.

Today I am grateful:

1. Well, I suppose I should say that I even have another option to consider (moving), right?
2. For Guyfriend.
3. For the anniversary of this day and what it means - a marriage that resulted in the creation of two fine young men.
4. For all the love and hope I embraced when I married 18 years ago on this date - I so wish some of that could be more fully restored so I could believe it again.
5. For Husband #1 - everything I have done has been in tribute to him and for the benefit of our sons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Live Love and Other "Secrets" of Happiness

This widowhood road has been an extremely bumpy one for me and I continue to struggle to keep from driving into the ditch. I search for strength and motivation everywhere. Blogging has been a lifesaver for me - because of the feedback and support received as well as the cyber friendships started but also for the opportunity to vent, process and articulate my feelings.

I just ame across a book review I saved from the Chicago Tribune Section 13 "Q" from January 27, 2008. It is written by Anne E. Stein about the book "The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die" by John Izzo, PhD. The author interviewed 235 "wise elders" and incorporated their advice into the book.

"Secret 1: Be true to yourself. You must constantly evaluate yourself and make adjustments to move closer to the life you desire to live.

Secret 2: Leave no regrets. "To leave with no regrets we must live with courage, moving toward what we want rather than away from what we fear."

Secret 3: Become love. The happiest lives are lived by those who focused on building deep personal relationships.

Secret 4: Live the moment. To savor life, we must experience each moment with gratitude and purpose.

Secret 5: Give more than you take. The happiest people knew that they had left things better than they found them in some small way."

I know for those of us out there struggling with real issues, intricate problems and major life changes, it is hard to focus on much more than getting through each day with some semblance of sanity. But reading over this list really struck a chord with me. I think those of us facing grief/loss are a step ahead of the "untouched" in understanding many of the points set out above.

1. Even as we battle to endure the dark days facing us, we can do so by remaining true to ourselves and doing things our way, as well as doing what is important to us, no matter what others think. I know that experiencing great loss has changed the way I see and live my life. I have reevaluated what is most important to me and try to live those values more fully.

2. No matter what we are dealing with, we must do so with courage moving forward to embrace life instead of trying to hide from what we fear.

3. "Become Love" or as I would say, Live Love. That says it all. I feel so strongly about the role of love in all our lives that I describe my views in the sidebar of this blog. I only got this after the death of my husband. And I'm sure I'm not the only one getting this after the death of a loved one.

4. It is so hard to live the moment and be grateful for all in our lives, even during those dark times. But I make an effort with my gratitude list. Accepting what is and facing it is what living in the moment means to me - it does not mean that I have to like it or be happy about my circumstances. But I do have to see my life for what it is - no fairy tale fantasies.

5. I believe that all of us grieving bloggers do hope to reach others and help in some small way. So even in the depths of our despair we are trying to better the world.

Today I am grateful:

1. For the pumpkins one of the local churches is selling to benefit the homeless.
2. For the Halloween artwork painted on the shop windows of a local town.
3. For Hamburger Helper. I truly hope whomever invented this concept gets a bigger throne in heaven because they have really left the world a better place for all those harried people needing to make quick and easy dinners when they can't think of anything else since the mid-1970s. That is a lot of saved dinners over the years.
4. For a roof over our heads (from son #1).
5. For not having crummy weather today (again from son #1).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Getting off the Couch

The past few weeks I have been in a pretty low spot - despondent, unmotivated, overwhelmed. I was able to ride on the high needed to get through the sale of the house and my move but then I just kind of crashed. It became too much of an effort to shop and then cook for dinners, so we had more fast food meals than is healthy. Some days, when I was off from work, I just sat in the apartment rather than unpack or work at the storage shed. Other days, I went back to bed after the boys went to school and stayed there all morning. I could get through the bare minimum of what needed to be done and that is about all. The past month has reminded me a lot of those early weeks and months after my husband first died. I'd be exhausted and go to bed early but be unable to sleep. So I would read and end up falling to sleep fitfully with all the lights on and my face unwashed and teeth unbrushed. I'd awaken at 3:00 a.m. and just lie there, unable to even roll over and turn off the light. I've had numerous nights like that over the past month.

I guess there is truth to the fact that new losses reactivate old losses. There has been tremendous anguish over having to move from our home and I have found myself still struggling with feelings of pain from the divorce. In a way my emotional upset has immobilized me. I am grieving the loss of my home, the end of my marriage, the end of the life I had with my first husband which was symbolized by our home.

I am aware of all of this - kind of like a person standing outside of myself and observing. I've been doing some reading on optimism vs. negativity and hope. I want to try and move past this and feel less broken. Part of it is up to me. I am motivated to prepare healthier meals for us (especially since Swine Flu is running rampant here). It will take some effort but I am game. Some of the shift is due to my accepting my situation with greater grace. I am feeling less of a failure for having had to move. I continue to hear stories of many people from all walks of life struggling right now, having to downsize or losing their homes. I've done the best I can as a mom who has dealt with the death of a spouse, being divorced by another and then having the Recession hit all within a five-year period. Believe me, since my husband's death we have been struggling to make ends meet - I wasn't out buying clothes or cars or going on vacations. I was just a middle-class, middle-aged mom doing the best I could to survive and raise my sons on my own.

So with that acceptance has come some peace. And the depression has lifted. And I am making an effort to be more positive and hopeful. And I am starting to do more. And even though there isn't enough time in the day, I am doing as much as I can with the time I have and that is about the best anyone can do.

Today I am grateful:

1. For pumpkins.
2. For my job - it saved me from staying in bed all day on some days.
3. For picnic baskets (what made me think of this I don't know but they're pretty cool even though summer had ended).
4. For the scarf look everyone is wearing these days - the long, skinny scarves wrapped a couple of times around your neck.
5. For the smell of Noxema skin cream/cleanser.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Needs and Options

I have not seen my therapist in a few weeks in an effort to save money. During our last session she commented that times of intense grief can lead to great personal insight, strength and growth. She added that she knew if I had a choice to have my husband back and not have gone through all this turmoil, in a heartbeat, I'd have him back. But one of the outcomes to his death has been increased self-awareness and development.

When I'm cutting corners and not seeing my therapist I try to read, study and continue to work on my grief. I've been reading a book by life coach Talane Miedaner. In it, she has a "Needs" quiz to take which helps you identify your specific, individual top four needs. These are the ones shaping your personality, driving you - your thoughts and decisions. I was pretty sure that some of my top needs would revolve around needing to feel safe, secure, cared for, protected and supported. And that was correct. My other top needs include wanting to be appreciated/valued and loved/cherished.

There are 21 basic needs in her list and you can take the quiz online yourself at "" or "" or "emotional index quiz."

I think it is a good idea for us to know ourselves because in doing so we can hopefully make better decisions about our lives. It certainly makes sense that if I am a person who really needs to feel safe, secure and protected, I am a basket case in my current life as a financially struggling widow. Likewise, if being loved and cherished is a top need it is understandable that I am not happy when without a partner.

So taking this quiz did not really surprise me but it did help me understand why the past few years have taken their toll on me and also explain my need and desire to remarry and be in a partnership. This widowhood gig is definetly at great odds with the life I need, value and crave. That is pretty apparent. And seeing that now on paper, in black and white is providing me with more perspective as to figuring out the options I have for my future at this point.

Today I am grateful:

1. For the pretty fall day.
2. For the sun shining.
3. For the vibrant colors of leaves.
4. For the warmer temperature
5. That we were treated to a wonderful dinner out at one of those Asian restaurants where they prepare everything with the knife artistry in front of you - my boys have been to these places, it was my first time. Very yummy! Rare treat!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Basic Needs & Survival

One of the basic principles from Psych. 101 usually includes Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. His theory in brief is that humans require certain needs met to grow, develop and evolve into their full potentials. The first basic tier of his pyramid includes physical needs such as safety, food, shelter, stability, protection (HEALTH INSURANCE), etc. If those basic needs aren't met a person can't move up to the next level of emotional needs. Those needs include our desire for love, connection, appreciation, community, etc. Until those needs are likewise met it is not possible for a person to achieve fulfillment with the next levels which include doing productive work, enjoying life, finding value in the balance of work and play. BOTTOM LINE - without feeling safe and secure it is pretty hard to enjoy life, find meaning in it or be able to work productively. This is because you are so consumed with survival - nothing is left over for the rest, including love.

I am thinking this as I contemplate the future of my life. I certainly am currently caught up in survival mode and I feel like I am sinking without someone next to me giving me a hand. I have tried to remain cheerful, optimistic and hopeful as I struggle with providing for my family. And I'm just not making it. I don't get enough hours at the big box store so I am starting a short-term program to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. But until I can get a new job there is not enough money to afford health/life/car insurance, pay the rent, bills, gas, clothes and still have enough for food. I'm not making it, cutting it, or surviving. And maybe according to Maslow's theory it is impossible for me to even think or consider such basic desires as happiness, joy and love while I'm struggling.

In the meantime I am stressed beyond the point of breaking. I am not as accessible to my sons because of it, as well as my depression, anxiety and worry. There is limited support to rely on and I am being crushed under the weight of this load I keep carrying by myself. We all deserve better. I'm not asking for a lot. Just the constant burden of worrying about our basic needs to be alleviated a bit. Then to feel a little bit of happiness and joy. To be able to watch a movie or video. To cook a meal with fresh meat and produce. To not wake up in dread and go to bed with that knot in my stomach. To feel a bit of hope and sanity.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Widowhood Road

I have had a tough time with this widowhood gig. It has not matched my personality or who I am. I live and function better as a part of a team. I have a difficult time making decisions on my own. I need someone to lean on, if only to tell me that the engine light may be on because I improperly screwed on the gas cap. I glow when being able to nurture and think about a partner. These past six years have snuffed out some of that light and in ways I have become bitter and despondent. It has certainly not been the way I have wanted to live and raise my sons.

In my situation, certainly a lot of this is related to the unfortunate circumstances that culminated so soon after my husband's death. I believe that my road would have been far more manageable if I had been able to concentrate and focus more directly on just me and the boys. Having to deal with my youngest son's medical diagnosis and then helping care for my parents (and they had extensive issues) blew away the time I needed to reorganize my house and my life.

Six years of winging it - functioning and coping as best I can under whatever current crisis has reared its ugly head. The divorce crisis in particular. I am just beginning to recognize that it has been the most damaging event in my life. Maybe that is because it is representative all of my abandonment issues tied up into one package. The divorce destroyed something inside me and I am still struggling to heal and lay that to rest. I do not believe we move on and shed our hurts. My first husband's death and the divorce from my second husband will remain with me forever.

Hardship has led to more pessimism and such extreme stress that I worry about the health of the boys but myself more than ever. This has not been a fun ride. I am overworked, overwhelmed, disorganized, distraught, anxious, upset and unhappy more often than not. I have absolutely despised living alone without a man in the house. Those first few weeks after my husband died I could not believe how much his presence had reassured and comforted me. I had to learn to live on my own and subdue the discomfort. And over time I learned to tolerate it but I still didn't like it.

I have missed having a warm, strong male body lying next to me in bed. Smelling male sweat and the scents only males have. I went three and a half years without sex and during that long, lonely spell told myself I would never ever ever take another sexual encounter for granted no matter how ordinary or mundane it was. Because it is all a miracle and wonderful! I have missed sex, bear hugs, coming home to someone, having someone coming home to me, getting flowers, holding hands, having someone hug me from behind while cooking, hearing compliments that I look nice, talking about world news events and parenting issues.

I have missed all of the little day-to-day stuff that comes with sharing a life with a partner. All the emotional, physical and social aspects too numerous to list. And if I did, the ones most prominent would be all the little things. Not a big diamond ring, or opulent wedding. Just the normal routines of making dinner after work, talking about one's day, being there to offer advice and support.

I've read that in living through trying circumstances we can come away with more knowledge about ourselves. And what I am realizing and accepting is my need and desire to live with a partner - to be remarried and part of a team. To chuck this widowhood label and lose the minority status and identity it has brought me. I'm not ashamed of this, nor do I feel I need to justify or explain who I am and how I tick.

But on the same page with this strong desire to be remarried is the devotion and loyalty I have for my sons. This was partly what damaged my second marriage. I agreed to let my oldest finish middle school before moving because the boys were having such issues about relocating to another state. But I also needed that year to work on and sell the house, etc. In the end, the plan blew up in smoke because my poor Mom was dying the summer I had agreed to move. And my new husband didn't tolerate the delay that brought to my moving. To be fair to him, it was not the total reason. He was financially and emotionally strained maintaining two households and lost his patience. I was too caught up caring for my sons and worrying about my Mom to devote much attention to him (he drove two hours one way every weekend to live with us). Our marriage didn't survive those challenges.

But I have to admit that I did put a lot of emphasis on my sons' needs. I suppose I did put their needs and wants ahead of my own and ahead of my second husband. In part, because they are fatherless boys and we have had little family support. I always felt someone had to look out for them - no one else in the world was.

So now flash forward a couple years. The divorce ravaged us - destroyed us emotionally and financially. Wounded our hearts. But a new guy who started out as a friend hung in there by our sides - was there every step of the way on the long and challenging divorce road for me. And helped soothe and balm the heart of my youngest, who was especially wounded by the actions of Husband #2. And now this guy is moving out of state to a new job and offers out his hand to us all. Accepts my destitution and still pessimistic attitude. Accepts (even likes) my sometimes unruly 15 and 16-year-old, who are more tolerant of a move-out-of state this time around but still don't like it.

I remarried three years after my husband died after only knowing my new husband six months. I have known Guyfriend almost two years now. These are the words that best describe him: kind, optimistic, courageous, loyal, tolerant, flexible, appreciative of the world (nature, movies, music), humorous, honest and intelligent. AND (and this is a big one because it is so important to me) he has never hung up on me or refused to speak with me as did Husband #2. We communicate openly, honestly and intelligently. We have fun together - he is supportive and extremely loyal. He has never gone back on his word. I have gotten a little nutty at times from either PMS or this widowhood gig and he has taken it all with stride and overlooked my fits or outbursts. He has stuck around and hung in there.

And now there is the opportunity to leave this life behind and embark on a new one. To ditch the widowhood gig (thank God) and have an easier life. We look at it as benefiting both of us. It is easier financially to pool two incomes together and to share companionship and a life. I wouldn't have to work (but I'd like to). I could live in a home again (with a garden and laundry facilities). Life would be better. Probably more from my perspective - I am gaining more than Guyfriend. He would be a good role model for the boys. I worry about getting them through college - not the financial end but just the emotional aspect of it for me.

Guyfriend thinks we are a good team. Except when I've gotten to pretty low points and have been freaking out about the divorce and/or poverty aspect of my life, we do not argue or are cross with one another. We are a good team. He is a good guy. A nice guy. I am lucky to have met him. Lucky to be with him. Yes, I love him but I also still love Husband #2. I have found that love isn't replaced by finding someone new. But this guy stood by our sides through thin (there hasn't been any thick). He needs to get a whole lot of credit for that. Husband #2 abandoned ship and left the boys and I in the water without a life boat.

This is not a decision based totally on infatuation and lust. We're long past that stage or age. Both of us feel that pooling our lives offer benefits (financial and otherwise). I like that aspect of our decision. I like that we are realistic and looking at all sides of the coin.

I am still struggling though with how this will effect the boys. Pulling them out of school as a Junior and Sophomore. Having them leave their friends and community. And for us, without family, this community has become our family. Identifying with it became a lifeline for us. How much would a move screw up my boys? How much do I consider them vs. my own needs and wants? Guyfriend is not keen on our staying here two more years until the boys finish high school. It doesn't make sense financially for one. Guyfriend's goal is to get us all together living under one roof. Maintaining two homes in different states defeats that purpose in his eyes. Or do I owe it to my sons to struggle it out for two more years. Is the stress and stain worth it? Will I end up losing this guy too? Will it end up with me losing my sanity?

The widowhood road is not an easy one. And then there are the bumps and potholes following that need to be confronted. Can you swerve around that one? Is a tire flat after hitting one? Do you pull off the side of the road or keep driving forward slowly, hands tightly gripping the wheel?
Do you drive ahead with the kids in the back to a new state, a new city, a new future or park the car where it has been because that is what is most comfortable to all of you because it is known and safe.

So much of all of this is complicated by widowhood. I don't have an ex-husband living here so the boys can remain to finish high school. I wish that were possible. So much of widowhood has been trying to make choices and decisions based on limited options. Here there is even a light at the end of this awful journey and yet it is still too dim to really make out. And I'm still struggling with whether to keep driving toward it or stay put.

Can I use all that I have learned and experienced the past six years to make better decisions and choices? Am I strong enough now or just too tired now (or both) to hang up the fight and perhaps take the easier option to move? How much will this move impact the boys who have already dealt with far more than they should have on their life paths? Guyfriend thinks I have done the best I could to keep the boys stable as long as possible. I know some kids move a lot and they live in two-parent families. It is not the end of the world. But I don't have the luxury of only thinking about myself. I am an only parent and these boys are my responsibility. They only have me to rely on. This responsibility at times has almost been too much for me to bear.

But a relocation/move is another loss and gosh darn it, we just keep having to face loss after loss. I don't want to let Guyfriend go. He starts the new job on November 1. I have tried him on for size and I like the way he fits. When I think of him not being around or nearby, I miss him deeply. Losing him would be a horrible loss. Either way, either decision, there is loss involved. There are also negatives and positives to each. Maybe it means looking ahead into the future. There are no guarantees (this I totally know). But of the two options, which road offers more immediate hope? Which road has fewer potholes?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Small Graces

The cake decorated like a monster was the first one chosen at yesterday's Cross Country "Cake Run." So what does that signify?

1. I know how to pick a nice cake.
2. My son had a nice cake to give away (he didn't have to be embarrassed).
3. My efforts at getting the cake show that I care for my son and want him to have positive experiences.
4. We still have the means to be able to afford a non-essential extra like this.
5. It is possible to not have to bake your own items for these kinds of things. I gave up the guilt over that soon after my husband died.
6. It is sometimes the little things that matter most. Getting the game system the boys want is important and I wish I could afford to get it right now. But little feats add up and count too.
7. That a cake can save the day!
8. That even in the middle of adversity, little things like cakes and "Cake Runs" are important. You can't cut out all extras.

I want to believe that it is the small graces that end up meaning the most of all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Unkind Fall

It is rainy and cold today. I wish the weather was better so I could enjoy the beautiful changing leaves but I am forced to stay in today to work on organizing and making our new space into a more acceptable home (maybe not such a bad thing). Fall has always been my favorite season but I am finding it less lovely since my husband's death. A shadow and cloud have been passed onto this season.

My husband was born on 10/20, we were married 10/23 and he died on 10/25 so THE WEEK of anniversaries is approaching. When I got remarried, I did not want to do so in October so our date was 9/23 (close enough to the changing season for a fall-themed wedding). But I tell you, when I tie the knot again, it WILL NOT be in fall! I am picking another season for sure! The last two years have had unkind falls as well. In 2007, there was the cleanup after the tornado and the sale of my parent's home, which necessitated clearing it out. My father was very ill as well. Last year, I was in the middle of the divorce. And now this year, have the move from my home to contend with. Gosh darn it! Can there just be a fall without so much to deal with so I can enjoy the season and not have it slip by before all the leaves have hit the ground?

Part of my dismay comes from the fact that since I've been widowed and an only parent, there has not been much time to just kick back and watch the leaves float down (or the snow fall, or the leaves start to bud for that matter either). The seasons and holidays go by with such amazing speed that they are over just as I am ready to finally celebrate. Remember that phrase "Take time to smell the roses?" Life has become so complicated, full and messy - a whirl wind and a blur.

I recently read something that inspired me but have forgotten who wrote it - the message was that we need to find time to sit and watch the leaves fall because this season is so amazingly beautiful. I totally agree with that but the weather has to also cooperate! And so do the circumstances of our lives.

Today I am grateful:

1. For cell phones (although not the cell phone bill).
2. For dishwashers.
3. For those first days of heat when it first gets cold.
4. For the changing seasons.
5. For computers and the internet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Second Shift

I was in the car at 6:10 tonight after working 8 hours, looking forward to getting home and watching the finale of Hell's Kitchen. My youngest called to let me know that he needed white poster board, a cake or pie and could I also pick him up a double cheeseburger from Burger King since they are only $1.00?

The cake was needed for a "cake run" instead of "cake walk" for the Cross Country Team. Bringing a cake wasn't mandatory but if he wanted to get one to take home, he'd need one. Considering the cake walk was my favorite festival event as a child, I of course, heartily agreed to buy a cake. The cheeseburger was ok too - the poor kid can't seem to get enough to eat and for a dollar I'll pull up through the drive through (although I personally do not eat beef and until recently the boys didn't either - too many health concerns and objections over how they treat the cattle).

So as I drove, I tried to calculate where I could go for these items as quickly as possible. I stopped at a Walgreen's on the route home and that was a quick stop. But I'd left my checkbook and cash card at home so had to go there first and then it was on to the grocery store. There was not much of a selection and I called my son to describe what was there. He just told me to get a regular cake. The one I chose was decorated with the face of a Halloween monster and I thought it was too cute to pass up. I grabbed a couple other needed grocery items and stood in the one open line behind a young mom with little kids who had more items and wanted her order divided into two transactions. What should have been a quick stop in and out took far longer than anticipated.

By the time I hit Burger King and finally made it home it was 7:45 so I got to watch just over half of the two-hour special. This only parenting gig does not allow for much free time or opportunity for rest or relaxation. How I wished as I drove on these errands that I could share some of the running around with a partner. I kept trying to breathe deeply and remind myself that getting upset or frustrated with the second work shift I'd had to unexpectedly pick up wasn't going to change anything. I know I sometimes gripe and moan about the only parenting aspect of widowhood - how people just don't realize how exhausting and overwhelming it can be. But really, where does my venting get me? At the end of the day I still need to get the WHITE poster board, choose a cake high school boys will like and make a fast food stop which has become a pretty regular occurrence with teenage boys.

It is true that my parenting responsibilities are more tiring and rigorous than that of another married mom or even that of a divorced mom who shares custody with and ex-husband. But I can't change that fact. Until I get remarried or the boys are away at college this is the reality. I guess there are some days where the frustration is so great that venting is necessary for sanity. But on days like today, digging in one's heals with resignation seems the best strategy.

Today I am grateful:

1. For being able to get to know some of the other cashiers at my job and to enjoy talking to them (even though there is not much time for that).
2. For the cute Halloween lawn displays I have noticed.
3. That I saw the ending of Hell's Kitchen (and really they repeat so much of it after the commercials it was ok I started out late).
4. For making it through work today without a migraine or having to pop a Xanax.
5. For being able to watch Hell's Kitchen in the first place since we had no t.v. all summer (couldn't buy a converter (none were left) and all the lower-costing digital t.v.s were always out of stock. Just got a digital t.v. when we moved to the apt.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I am finding a pattern to my life. When I am able to be preoccupied with a task or situation, like getting the boys through Homecoming Week, I can manage pretty decently. I feel on-task, focused and together - and that I am working toward and achieving a goal. But after the event is over, I kind of crash and become depressed and unfocused. I feel overwhelmed and listless. I have a hard time motivating myself and getting going again.

The boys have also seemed to crash. They are irritable and on me - picking at me, demanding a new computer game system (that we can hardly afford after plopping down approximately $350.00 for Homecoming). I know they are frustrated and upset with our situation. They need new clothes/shoes and have gone without so many things over the past couple years.

So there is a bit of tension in our household and I am at the breaking point of being able to keep it together. If ever there was a need to take an escape weekend or even night off, it would be now for me. But I can't justify the cost of anything extra right now - I just don't have it.

I think part of this may be in the fact that I am experiencing deep feeling of loss related to selling and moving from the house. Somehow tied into that too, are feelings of tremendous pain around my divorce. I wish more than anything that I could turn off thinking about Husband #2 but I have not been able to do that yet. Those feelings involve some of the lowest of low - rejection, abandonment and disrespect. The combination of those along with moving from my home are like a double whammy for me.

The apartment is still not organized and put together. Unpacked boxes remain and I need to move some furniture into storage because it is too cramped. I am utterly unsure of where/how to start consolidating my three storage sheds. They are so packed there is no way to work within them so I will have to take everything out and repack everything, I suppose. But right now that seems too much for me to handle/accomplish on my own.

Do you want to know what I really want to do? I just want to lie in bed with the covers over me. I want to tune out the world and everything I have to do and say, "Too bad, forget it all." I seem more mentally drawn and drained than physically. But I just want to hang it all up and escape somewhere, somehow. Only there is no real place to go.

I have to work an endless 8-hour shift at the big box store tomorrow, I swear, after these shifts I am so exhausted I am ready to collapse with a migraine besides. But I am off Wed., Thur. and Fri. and I suppose I will have to get up and not go back to sleep when the boys leave. And I will have to face the storage sheds and open one and just start taking the boxes and stuff out. And then I will have to do my best to put it all back in stacking everything as high as possible and hopefully will be able to empty one into the other. And then I'll just have to start on the next...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Homecoming 2009

Times have certainly changed since I was in high school. Today, you don't just ask a date to Homecoming, you have to do it in a unique way. A pizza delivered to your date's house with a message written in pepperoni; dressing up as Superman; meeting your date on a horse at the riding stable she boards her horse at, etc. I had forgotten just how trying and stressful Homecoming week can be - not just for the kids, who have a week full of special events and assemblies, but also the poor parents! And I am going to add - it is tough functioning as an only parent when life is basically ho hum and normal. But during a week like this one, the only parent routine takes on a new dimension!

By the end of the week I was worn out from running to the store for my youngest who first wanted to present flowers to his date when he asked her to the dance and then decided on candy (he ended up using nothing I purchased because his girlfriend was grounded and not allowed to see him! I gave the lovely flower bouquet to my oldest who gave it to his girlfriend). I had to go to the dry cleaners, order flowers, purchase socks, a shirt and two ties because there is a "rule" that the boy's ties "match" their date's dress. It was touch and go for a while when I couldn't locate the belts lost somewhere in the move - but we found two that would do.

I ended up taking my oldest to the doctor during the week because he was freaking out about his face breaking out. Then the boys wanted face cream and cover up, new deodorant and haircuts. And the dance tickets cost $60.00 and dinner about $160.00 between the two. The youngest was testy and rude to me all week (no doubt some of this was related to nerves but there is no other parent to absorb some of that excess anxiety being flung your way!).

But the real stress occurs the day of the dance - PICTURES! Although both boys go with large groups of friends, somehow the houses where the kids pose for photos before the dance always wind up at well-to-do families. I am the sole single/only parent in attendance and feel awkward and self-conscious. Then to top it off, we are in homes of families not having financial worries. I end up feeling jealous, envious and resentful. We live in a town filled with beautiful mini-mansions and historical showcases. One of the homes on Saturday had an amazing fish pond in the backyard, patio and garden that took my breath away. It was full of mission style furniture. The other was a restored historical home. Being in those homes made me miss the average, middle-class house I had to sell. Last year, when I was taking photos at least I was still a homeowner. This year I really felt the economic division between those who have and those in my position.

Taking the photos is hard enough for me because they are usually around 4:00 and I am unable to be in two places at once so I have to choose which boy to photograph and give a disposable camera to the other and hope a parent will snap a couple of shots for me. This year I was lucky to be able to attend both photo sessions since one was at 4:00 and the other 4:30. But as the locations were a distance away, it was rushed and stressful racing from one to the other. Other parents can split up and each take a kid if they have more than one going to the dance.

In the end, my sons looked handsome and their girlfriends beautiful. I remain proud that my boys continue to hold their heads high, that they are popular and accepted. Looking at the wealthy parents surrounding me as we took pictures made me think of how early in my widowhood, I felt such a disconnect to everyone around me. It wasn't that I felt superior or better than others, rather it was that I was thinking and being on another level. On Saturday I felt totally unconnected to these other parents, light years away!

I suppose having the photos taken in these beautiful homes makes the owners proud and gives them a chance to show off. Last year the hosts actually served cocktails and gourmet snacks to the parents! Wouldn't it be a hoot to offer to host the photo shoot for the next dance at our apartment? I could rent out the commons area in our complex, which is actually quite lovely (with its own set of mission furniture!). I just kept thinking as I stood among these fortunate parents, how different our lives are. But somehow this line of thought also made me feel proud of myself - to realize that out of all those people, I was probably the one surviving the most pain and loss.

Today I am grateful:

1. Homecoming 2009 was successful and is over!
2. The boys still fit into last year's suits so I didn't have to buy new ones.
3. That suits from Target look the same as those from department stores.
4. That the boys are popular and went to Homecoming.
5. Everyone made it home safe and sound (the boys and their friends and all the kids in our community).

Friday, October 9, 2009


What a horribly depressing, selfish, poor pity me post yesterday. It was a good thing I drove my son to club volleyball in the evening. It is held in the town next to us but a good half hour away. Since it was raining, I did not want my son to drive the van so late (practice ended at 10:00 p.m.). It is also where my dad lives in his facility. So after dropping my son off, I spent some time with my father watching him play cards. Then there was a little time left to pop into Borders where I browsed the craft books, new calendars and self-help section.

I am always drawn to the books about self-actualization and the Law of Attraction. Basically, the theory presented in them is that I have created the current life I am living by the thoughts I've had because like energy attracts like energy. In regard to my financial crisis, I should not be reflecting/referring to my debt and bills. Rather, I should be thinking such thoughts as "My prosperity will be increasing soon" and "My life will be improving," etc. A lot of positive self-visualization stuff too.

I do have to say that after flipping through some of these books I was somewhat inspired and my mood improved a little. But I just struggle with these concepts overall. They trouble me. Because I believe (and this is also based on experience) that there are times when life is or seems impossible to manage/get through/tolerate/survive. Certainly people affected by natural disasters did not wish or think them upon themselves. Surely I never wanted my husband to die and thinking such thoughts led him to the cancer. Isn't it irresponsible of me to stop focusing on the financial setbacks of my life right now? How can I not think of them if they are such a significant aspect of how we are living?

I actually think the books I was looking at last night are written for those people lucky enough to be only worried about what to make for dinner or where to go on vacation. I need a meatier book that deals with real catastrophe and problems. Like dealing with the financial aftermath of your husband's death when there wasn't sufficient life insurance to cover the bills. Or, for any middle-aged folks out there having to grapple with the current unemployment nightmare, or loss from divorce.

There are problems in life and then there are real problems. I should have hit the grief/loss section to see what new books are out on the topic. Mine are all six years old. Have they come up with any new theories about managing and living with heartache?

The reason all these new age book ideas perplex me is that they are all full of nice ideas in theory - but they never explain how to get from point A to point B. I would surely like to think more positive and optimistic thoughts but when you are in survival mode just trying to figure out how to feed the kids, it is not so easy.

I decided to create another Blog titled "Plunged into Poverty." I think for me at least, that my grief/loss journey has been complicated by other issues besides the death of my husband. It gets difficult to sometimes separate the differing aspects of my grief. So I figure maybe it would be easier to have a blog just for the grief/loss feelings related to death and relationships and then one in which I can describe the financial burdens going on. Anyway, it is just an idea for now. I'll try it out and see how it goes.

I once told my therapist that it is hard enough just trying to get by as a widow. Having to cope with the other losses has just put me over the top. I also find a certain weariness that has settled in from my having been widowed a number of years now. True, I was remarried for two of the six years following my husband's death. But we weren't living together and the eventual divorce probably had more of a negative impact on me than my husband dying. It pretty much took the wind out of my sails to have to suffer such a loss so closely following my husband's death. In a way, I feel more suspect and wary of the world than I ever have! Talk about getting kicked when you're down. I also just recently read that the older you are, the harder it is to bounce back from life's curveballs.

A woman who responded to one of my posts put it very astutely when she said that the grief doesn't really go away with time - rather it just gets different. And I am also realizing that part of my personal challenge in facing all of this, comes from not having a great deal of support to rely on. Going this road alone has been exceedingly challenging for me, as well as a source of continual sadness. In getting to know more about myself as I face these life challenges, I am aware that I need a partner on this life road. I need someone to lean on. I want someone to lean on me. I want to share a bed with a man. I want to cook for a family again and to deal with all the conflict and stress that living with another person entails. I have not done well on my own. But I don't want to get down on myself for that. It is who I am and I'm trying to acknowledge that.

So where have all these rambling thoughts taken and led me?

1. I need a vacation. I need to go somewhere by myself to reflect and have time to devote to just me.

2. I need to somehow figure out how to balance the grief of the past with hope for the future. That truly seems to be the key in all of this. Maybe if I can figure that out I'll be able to write my own self-help book.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Financial Fear - Now This is a Real Nightmare!

Having a tough day filled with a lot of anxiety, concern and worry. Took my oldest to the doctor because he is freaking out about his acne which has worsened but is still not terrible (as the doctor noted). But for a 16-year-old, one pimple is the end of the world during Homecoming week! Plus, I needed to get my physical done for the Certified Nursing Program I am starting at the end of the month. This visit cost me $60.00 out-of-pocket, in addition to the $350.00 I am paying for our insurance coverage monthly. Since we have no prescription coverage, I went to WalMart and got the list of the prescriptions they offer for $4.00. The doctor prescribed my son an antibiotic from the list. At least psychologically he will feel better taking something. While there, I asked for a refill on my Xanax which is only about $10.00 to fill. Feeling as stressed as I have been, I wanted to have the refill available so I can relieve some of the tension if I chose to.

The financial conditions of my life have gotten me to the point of feeling a pit in my stomach every day. Today's medical errands were a strain. On top of that, being Homecoming week is not helping. After the doctor, my son and I went to Kohl's and Target since he needed a new shirt and tie for the dance on Saturday. Each cost $20.00 which I know is relatively inexpensive but not when you are on the verge of considering filing for bankruptcy.

I called my attorney this morning because I have concerns that filing may cause problems for me finding a job or housing in the future. The nice paralegal's response to me was that my credit is already ruined so I mind as well go the easier route now by wiping out the debt. In my case, however, I am working with Consumer Credit Counseling with my creditors. The real problem putting me under is having to pay the $350.00 each month and then some for the health insurance!

At this point I am tabling a decision on the bankruptcy until later in the month. I need to locate my financial documents which are missing from the move anyway. But I still have to buy my youngest a shirt, pants and tie for the dance (both boys are wearing their old suits) but I needed to have the jackets dry cleaned. The tickets for both were $30.00 each and I ordered flowers for their dates ($16.00 each). Then there is the cost of dinner.

The money just keeps dribbling out and we are not living high on the hog here. The boys last got clothing during the spring from the used clothing store. They need clothes for winter.

My real fear stems from worry that I am not able to provide adequately for my boys (especially the health and medical). We don't have dental coverage. We all go longer than we should for haircuts. We have only been on one vacation in seven years (Michigan for my honeymoon with husband #2).

The worst of it is to have all this anxiety and fear building up and not having a place for it to really go. Guyfriend says to not worry about it but his son lives with his ex-wife who makes $75,000 a year. Guyfriend does not have to worry about putting food on the table for two teen boys, covering their Homecoming expenses, medical needs and clothing them appropriately, etc. I have a hard time and struggle with the disparity between my situation and that of my Guyfriend. Currently our computer mouse is broken and we need printer ink. I also need to come up with $300.00 by mid-month which is the monthly auto insurance coverage for my son and I. It just doesn't end!

I feel overwhlemed and like I am being buried alive! Facing this stuff alone is the other killer.

I am praying to hang in there until I can complete the CNA training by the end of November. It is my meal ticket out of the difficulty I've had finding full-time work in my field. Guyfriend keeps telling me to hang in there and be hopeful/positive. But I tell you, there comes a point when you are so overcome with worry and all that you have to do that it paralyzes you! I need to be the one supporting these kids but find some days harder than others when there doesn't seem to be much support coming my way. What is that example they always use when flying? That you have to put your oxygen mask on first in order to be able to help those who depend on you. Right now I'm just feeling like an overworked, overwrought, excessively stressed and worried mom who needs a little TLC from someone/anyone in order to make it through the next hurdle.

I am purposely taking a break from listing what I am grateful for today because I just don't feel like it and I guess I'm honestly not feeling very grateful and don't want to pretend I am. I feel like the world is against me and I am up against a power too great to overcome. Pretty hard to feel grateful when that is churning around your brain!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grief Recovery Formula

One would think that after all I have gone through the past six years that I would possess some sort of special knowledge or golden key in regard to surviving grief. But I am finding the opposite is true. The more I experience, the less I seem to understand about grief/loss and the more complex it is to me.

So in six years I have dealt with the following life changing events and losses:

1. Cancer of spouse over three year period. Includes one bone marrow transplant.
2. Two failed attempts at IVF (started when we were told my spouse had beaten the cancer - I went through the last implantation on my own while my husband was in the hospital and was told the pregnancy had not taken two weeks before my husband died - I never told him and soon after, he was in a coma).
3. Death of spouse.
4. Youngest son's diagnosis with a potentially fatal heart condition just one year after spouse's death. (Diagnosis was revoked after seven months of medical investigation, including genetic testing).
5. Financial hardships.
6. Illness and caretaking of parents. (Includes taking parents to doctor visits, eye surgeries and helping them move into two assisted living facilities).
7. Being an "only" parent.
8. Courtship and remarriage.
9. My Mom's illness and death to colon cancer.
10. My father's continued health issues (near death numerous times).
11. The cleaning out and sale of my childhood home.
12. Discord in my second marriage mostly dealing from the fact that he was a 50-year-old-never-married guy who lacked the patience and tolerance to take on a ready-made family.
13. The miserable period of my divorce when my second husband refused to speak with me or make any attempt at reconciling.
14. Financial ruin from the divorce.
15. Difficulties in finding a job when the Recession hit.
16. Foreclosure.
17. Selling five bedroom home of 19 years.
18. Packing and moving into two-bedroom apartment less than half the size of my home.
19. Dating issues from being back in a relationship while carrying tremendous baggage.
20. Weird family dynamics that were stirred up with the illnesses of the parents, including strained relations and lack of contact with siblings.

This list is tipped and greatly out of balance. After my spouse's death, I was bombarded with circumstances that were challenging to handle on my own as a widowed, middle-aged mom (secondary grief losses). No doubt, all the care-taking responsibilities that occurred with my parents were the hard luck of being a middle-aged adult. The fact that I was a new widow was unfortunate. I was having a hard enough time trying to get back on my feet after my spouse's death and here I was undertaking care-taking duties at a time when I should have been focused on myself and my boys. Just a sad twist of fate. In my case, I would have to say that all the stuff that came after my spouse's death was far more painful and challenging to me than his actual death.

I have two shelves full of grief books and have worked in the field as a mental health counselor. But all I know for certain at this point about grief is that there is no guide book we can follow - there are no magical steps we can take to get us through it. It is an individual and unique process. I think it is not about getting over the grief but about incorporating a new identity with the person you have become since your losses. And the only way to get to that point is to keep living and bravely facing the days ahead of you.

There need to be periods of self-reflection, processing and solitude. At least, that is my take on this whole thing. Right now, I just want to be by myself to reflect on my failed marriage and the loss of our home. I need to sit with those losses and let the sadness consume me. I want to have the time and to take the time to feel the pain of what is now gone from my life.

Even though I know there is not really any kind of guide or formula to follow, the following is just what I think happens to people surviving grief/loss in terms of steps and growth:

Widow in the Middle's formula for grief recovery =

Time + Feeling the Pain + Self-Reflection/Processing + Self-Awareness + Willingness to See Oneself as a New/Different Person + Growth = Person who has become a Survivor with an Expanded Identity

I am beginning to understand all those analogies to butterflies. Perhaps it is not so much how we get through the period of intense grief/loss, but how we emerge into the people we become after facing tragedy.

Today I am grateful:

1. For migraine medicine (I know I've put this down before but I am really grateful it exists because I have severe headaches often and regular aspirin doesn't cut it).
2. For my boys' willingness to accept the situation we are in with courage and dignity.
3. For all that I have materially, even when it is less than what I used to have - it is still enough for us to get by.
4. For the reality that bad times don't last (there is change and flux in all things).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stability & Structure = Sanity

I cannot find the charger for the camcorder. It was in a wicker basket that I had on the baker's rack in the living room. All of the other storage baskets that were on the rack have been found except for this one. And of course the camcorder charger is the one thing in my entire home that I now need. Why does it always go like this? To be unable to locate the one item of importance to you when you most need it?

My oldest is cheerleader for the girl's touch football team game tonight (Powder Puff). A group of Junior and Senior boys is performing the half-time routine for the girls as a spoof. My son says it is hilarious! So I of course would like to tape it.

In the midst of all this chaos and confusion, the fact that my boys through it all have remained popular and active in school is one of the threads of sanity I have been able to hold on to!

There are still boxes to put away in our small new living space. My youngest son's room is still stacked with them (mainly books that need to be shelved). But it is tedious and not fun work, especially when there is limited time and you're doing it on your own.

This all brings to mind the need for stability and structure in our lives. My grief journey has ripped us of these necessities over the past years and it has taken a severe toll. To be living in a messy, unattractive home is disheartening and depressing. Then to add to that the inability to locate items that are important to you just brings on more frustration. And I still have three storage sheds to consolidate once the apartment is unpacked!

My girlfriend who has moved from her big suburban home into a townhome came into the store while I was working on Sat. night. We joked that we will probably still have boxes that remain unpacked until our next moves whenever they may be in the future!

I am devoting myself to the unpacking and organizing of the apartment this week. The storage sheds will have to wait for next week. I cannot deal with the discord and disharmony surrounding us. Our homes wherever they may be need to nurture, comfort and reassure us in this crazy, unpredictable world. Right now the only control I can exhibit and display is my ability to create some calm within this raging whirlwind of chaos. I know what to do and that has to be the task. I am going crazy here...

Today I am grateful:

1. For the gorgeous fall sunny day we had yesterday.
2. For scarecrows and hay bales.
3. For being able to throw out garbage daily instead of waiting for the weekly pickup when I lived in our home.
4. For the ability to be able to see my son cheer at tonight's game (that I don't have to work).
5. That at least I found the camcorder (which still has a couple minutes of time on it - maybe enough to tape a little of the routine tonight).

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Lesson in Empathy

I was crying the other day to my guyfriend and saying that I do not want to have to live in this apartment. He held me as I was crying and said, "You have to, you have no choice." I did not find this comment comforting (sorry Guyfriend if you are reading this). To tell me the obvious is not helpful. I already know I do not have another living option. What would have been a more empathic/helpful reply? Try one of the following:

1. "I am so sorry you are feeling this way."
2. "Tell me more about how you're feeling."
3. "This must be hard for you."

I think back to those early days after my husband's death when I would say, "I just want him back" or "I just want my old life back." I would get the same reply as guyfriend's - "He is not coming back. Your old life is over. You have to move on... You have no choice." Of course I knew all of that already. Substitute any of the three replies above and I would have felt a little better. My situation would have been the same but at least I'd have felt that someone was trying to understand me and offering some real compassion.

Living Among the "Untouched"

I had a productive and interesting session with my grief therapist today. She brought up an aspect of grief that she has encountered repeatedly in her practice. People who have not experienced loss are hit like a ton of bricks when it touches them. She said that these individuals tell her that they were totally unaware of how much loss hurts and that they did not appropriately respond to others in the past because they just didn't know. "So this is how it feels," they moan! "How could I have ever told my friend/sister/brother/mother/co-worker to get over themselves, stop being so self-centered, to move on and deal with it?" They admit they were insensitive.

My therapist added that it is hard for people to have effective relationships when one of the couple has experienced significant grief/loss and the other has not. We were talking about my second marriage and she said that it is like one person always trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when explaining their feelings or perspective. She doesn't believe that couples have to be on the same level of shared life experiences or that their losses have to be the same (spouses dying for example). But she does believe that experiencing grief/loss has the potential to profoundly cause us to grow. And that there has to be some level of that shared kind of growth for a relationship to work. It is her opinion that one of the reasons for the failure of my second marriage is just because of this factor. My second husband led a pretty charmed life (and he had never been in any long-term relationships either). We just weren't matched up on a mutually similar level in terms of the hardships we'd faced over our lives. Nor did we share a compatible level of psychological insight (another factor my therapist finds couples needing to share). Sad but true.

My experience of widowhood has continued to make me feel jaded and frustrated as I continue to interact with those people lucky to have not faced much loss in their lives. I don't seem to be able to connect with them. It is difficult to explain my life views or experiences. They don't want to listen and they don't understand. It is a tough hurdle to face every day.

Today I am grateful:

1. For seeing the display of carved pumpkins in the window of a florist - it was so simple and cute. Just a large number of pumpkins on shelves against a black background.
2. To be able to have someone to talk to in person who does get what I feel and has always told me that what I feel I am entitled to feel.
3. For the rain we have been having. I love the rain because it makes us appreciate the sunny days more and it slows us down to get chores done inside.
4. For living in a safe community.
5. For the $5.99 Friday pizza special.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Skeletons and Nightmares

I have been driving down the streets in town and seen the various Halloween graveyard displays filled with headstones and skeletons in some yards. Ever since my husband's death the week before Halloween, I have been unable to decorate with anything that reminds me of dying. My sons are forbidden to wear the popular t-shirts with skulls on them. I only want happy fall-inspired decorations surrounding me like cheerful scarecrows, grinning pumpkins and colorful leaves.

As I pass these graveyard scenes (clever as they are), I cannot help but think that the people creating them have not faced the death of a loved one. How could they? I don't think any of us widows or widowers could in good conscience be purchasing headstones and morbid, scary objects dripping of blood and oozing gore. We have already faced the real nightmares of death, grief and loss. How could we have such displays on our front lawns, reminding us every day of what we hope to not think about if only for a few moments?

Part of me is a bit angry at seeing these graveyard scenes. Real life is already a pretty scary place, as we well know. Is it fair to laugh in the face of fate by displaying such prominent reminders of death? Or am I just overly sensitive to this because of my losses? It is just that I already live with the painful reality of death in my life even years after its immediacy. I don't want to pretend that death, sorrow and hardship aren't out there because I am well aware that they are. I just don't care for people mocking this reality. I know it is all meant in good fun but it feels as though someone has thrown me a curve ball whenever I see this stuff. How can anyone really laugh at death? I guess those who have been lucky enough to have not faced it (the "untouched").

Barrel of Laughs!

My other close girlfriend called the other day to check up on how I was doing. She divorced in March, just sold her home and is in the process of moving into a townhouse. It felt so good to connect with and talk another person going through some of the same life changes as I. To hear her say that her back is so sore from the packing up and moving of her home. How I can relate to that having experienced the worst aches and pains of my life just a few weeks ago! She also admitted to the confusion and stress of living out of boxes and not being able to find anything. During our conversation she would interject, "This is just a barrel of laughs!" She added, "We did what had to be done."

My friend's husband has been out of work for two years and avoids contact with her because of child support issues (he claims he doesn't have the money to pay her now). So she has been handling a lot of life on her own although her family has provided emotional and financial support.

Anyway, I think that we all need opportunities to connect with others in our positions because it helps us realize that we are not crazy and that we are doing the best we can under the circumstances we were given. When we are in limited contact with others or only with those in better situations, it can make us feel inferior and/or helpless/hopeless.

Today I am grateful for anything and everything fall including:

1. Pumpkins
2. Hot apple cider
3. The gorgeous changing leaves
4. The nippy, crisp weather
5. Apple and pumpkin pie
6. Halloween
7. The fall colors of gold, rust, sage, orange, red, brown
8. Going back to drinking hot tea again
9. Shortened days that make you appreciate the daylight hours more
10. Mums