Saturday, August 28, 2010

You Can Run But Can't Hide

This summer I made a promise to refrain from reading any books about grief. I blog enough about grief, I needed to take a break from saturating myself with the topic during my down time. I also believe that we get what we think about. Maybe if I stopped blogging so much about grief, I'd be happier? Anyway, without extra funds for spending money I made a promise that I'd make do by reading the stock pile of books currently on my shelves. Throughout the year I'll pick up used books at tag sales, the resale shop or when they're on sale at the library. I have my own mini library of unread books to choose from so it wasn't that much of a sacrifice for me.

Now here's the weird part. Almost all the books I chose to read this summer ended up dealing with grief/death. A lot of the books I selected gave no clue that they dealt with the topic. There was nothing on the jacket overviews depicting that the main character was a widow or that half the characters would end up dying in the end. After I read a number of books on this topic, I said, "What the heck" and picked out a few I knew in advance dealt with death in some way.

Here are some excerpts from the books that were especially moving to me.

- "Sometimes suffering is just suffering," she told Gus. "It doesn't make you stronger. It doesn't build character. It only hurts."

From "Comfort Food" by Kate Jacobs author of "The Friday Night Knitting Club." This was a wonderful read and very insightful, well-written. But no where within the back description is mention that the main character Gus, a famous t.v. chef is widowed!

- "The rules of happiness are as strict as the rules of sorrow; indeed, perhaps more strict. The two states have diferent densities, I've come to think. The lives of happy people are dense with their own doings - crowded, active, thick - urban, I would almost say.
But the sorrowing are nomads, on a plain with few landmarks and no boundaries; sorrow's horizons are vague and its demands few. Jeanie and I had not become strangers; it was just that she lived in the city and I lived on the plain."

From "Some Can Whistle" by Larry McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove," "Terms of Endearment," "The Last Picture Show"). I chose a book by McMurtry because quite often they are humorous and light. Now in the back description there is mention of "a murderous young man" but I guess I didn't take it literally. Those characters not gunned down ended up all dying of cancer throughout the book. I love McMurtry's humor but got overwhelmed by the amount of death depicted. I have to say the paragraph above just gives me chills in its accuracy and beauty. Anyway, the book's plot is the unsuspecting tale of a middle-aged t.v. writer who is reunited with the daughter he never knew. It is a sequel to "All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers," which was never mentioned in the reviews for "Some Can Whistle," which I felt was strange since half the characters who died off were part of the first book.

- "Do you still try to, you know, contact Trish?" He shook his head. "I still talk to her and have pictures of her everywhere but I know she's gone and, for whatever reason, I'm still here. Same goes for you. I don't know if you'll ever contact Aidan but, the way I see it is, you're still alive. You've got a life to live."

From "Anybody Out There?" by Maian Keyes, an Irish author I never heard of. This book is a mystery so I won't disclose the plot except to say that it was surprisingly freshing and kept me guessing. Well worth the 50 cents I plucked down for it!

- "Lonliness is a strange thing. It's like a yellow rubber raincoat you wear twenty-four hours a day. It's hot and heavy and awkward and you can't get comfortable when you try to sleep in it, or take a shower in it, or shop for groceries in it, or watch TV or go through the drive-in window of a fast-food restaurant to get onion rings. You can't even take it off long enough to run it through your Kenmore washer and dryer - so after a while it gets a stink to it. You think you'r hiding undermeath that bright yellow raincoat, that nobody can see you sweating bullets, your clothes pasted to your skin, which is coming loose from your bones. You think if you put the hood up and hury from place to place no one will notice how alone you are, how lost, how afraid.
It would take a friend like Mayfred to say, "Okay, girl, time's up, get that raggedy raincoat off. You look like a fool going around in that thing hot as it is. Not a drop of rain falling. I don't want to look at you wearing that nasty thing anymore."

From "Verbena" by Nanci Kincaid. Excellent portrayl of a widowed mom who remarries WITHOUT the standard happily ever after ending. That description of loneliness took my breath away.

Also read by Sue Miller, "The Senator's Wife" and "For Love." The first book deals with loss through betrayal and the second, destruction due to betrayal and a horrible fatal accident. Both were very good. "The Doctor's Wife" by Elizabeth Brundage is an intriguing mystery involving murder and a destructive affair. "Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood is an amazing work set in the past involving muder as well that will keep the reader engrossed beginning to end. I loved "Big Stone Gap" by Adriana Trigiani which deals with a 35-year-old woman's loss of her mother and the secrets about her father/family.

I've just finished the fourth book in Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove, Washington series. The books are quick reads and I like this series because a number of the key characters were widowed and knitting is incorporated into the stories as well. In this book (of which there are now 10), the two middle-aged single women remarry (one widowed, one divorced) as does one of the older widowed characters at age 77. While I love the happy ending we all are searching for, it seemed a little unrealistic to me that all of these women found men so easily, men ready, willing and able to remarry without anything worrisome with their characters or personalities. Now these characters live in a small town outside of Seattle. None of these women had to register for dating services or have to go through a bunch of losers before coming lucky. I know romantic fiction geared toward women isn't entirely realistic but gee, I think making it look so easy can make those of us in the trenches wonder what we're doing wrong or what's wrong with us because the dating scene isn't that easy! It was kind of like these men just dropped out of the sky - I know in my case, that the dating road has been filled with detours and potholes!

The Lonely Road of Widowhood

I started blogging as a way to emotionally survive. I've had a tough time being a widow. I don't think I've adjusted well to this life, and in fact I'll admit I'm not sure I ever will feel restored until I'm remarried. I'm comfortable saying that. It has come after a great deal of soul searching and looking at myself honestly. I'm not cut out for the widowhood life, no one is. But I suppose some of us fare the jouney better. I don't get on well living and making decisions on my own. I'm a better team player and I need and want the safety and security living in a committed relationship brings. I never liked the dating scene back in my teens, even then preferring to have a steady. I was in a marriage I worked extremely hard at maintaining and I valued it beyond measure. Every day I miss that old way of life and what I had. You might even say that with the passage of time my grief in missing my husband has softened. However, my grief at losing my marriage and the lifestyle I had, hasn't.

There are numerous reasons the widowed struggle to adapt to their new lives. We live in a society that fears/hides from death; people these days are busy and preoccupied with their own lives; exteneded families don't exist anymore to provide support, emotional or otherwise; death has become sanitized and removed from our lives since people live longer and die in hospital settings; our society expects people to handle and face their own hardships and life realities.

As I've expalined before, for me it hasn't been so much the grief that has been the challenge. What has challenged me has been the adjustment to my losses, beginning with my husband's death and then the downward spiral that seemed to occur with each subsequent loss. I haven't managed my adjustment very well. In some cases, I just plain and simple did not known what to do. We emphasize teaching our children academics through their early years. We need to add some life, relationship and communication skills training to those classes. We jump into love relationships on a wing and a prayer with no foundation on resolving conflict, much less communicating effectively. Some resiliency training or classes on handling conflicts, loss and adversity would be good too.

It didn't take long for the hard world of widowhood to come down on me. Those very early days when I was overwhelmed and shell shocked was when I encounted the least amount of care and sympathy. Teachers demanding that the boys complete assignments or take tests without giving them a short break to get their bearings, or even an extra day to finish a paper. The counselor insisting my sons serve Saturday detentions because they'd arrived late a few days in a row. I tried explaining that it was totally my fault as a grieving mom. I related that I was having trouble getting it all together in my grief and yes, we were a few minutes late to school during that early period. We weren't cut any slack - the boys had to spend some Saturday mornings at school being reprimanded for actions that weren't in my eyes their fault.

Then there was the Winter Carnival at the school just a few months after my husband died. My boys wanted to win a cake at the Cake Walk. The parent volunteers running the game knew my family well and the situation. My boys spent a good part of the afternoon and their tickets hoping to bring home a cake - they didn't. I remember wanting to scream at these parents I knew - "Just let them 'win' some cupcakes! It wouldn't take much to make them happy! Can't you even imagine what the last few months of their lives have been like and what it will be like for them in the future without their Dad? Can't you 'overlook' the rules and 'pick' their ticket from the bowl?"

There was so much fury in those early days as people discounted how I was feeling. I definitely encountered minimization whereby people would try to talk me out of how I felt - "It can't be that bad." "You just need to be stronger." I ended up feeling weak and as if something was wrong with me, for grieving in the first place, then for having such difficulty and resistance dealing with the changes death brought to my door. I desperately needed help - with finances, childcare, some time for myself to figure out what to do next, but whenever I asked, I'd get shot down. I picked up the message that I needed to handle everything by myself and that I was weak for having to ask and even admitting that I was weak and couldn't manage on my own. Now I know that this is my experience and not one that is shared by all widows.

I think though in the end that what drove me most up a wall, was the unwillingness of society in general to cut the newly widowed mom and her kids some slack. I had to perform to the same standard being held for all the two-parent families in my community and I just wasn't cutting it. Then when I couldn't measure up, I'd be penalized, or the boys would be by having to serve detentions and the like. I can come up with more examples - difficult coaches or parents on the boys' teams, my employers but I'll save my fingers.

I think this is what I struggle with the most. That we live in such a black and white society that can't or is unable to make an exception or two. Really, the positive power that would have been released and magnified by the stingy parents running the Cake Walk would have been far greater if they'd let my sons "win" a cake, than whatever lesson they were trying to prove by sticking to the book. Our society is so dead set on treating everyone on the same level. Maybe part of my hope in blogging has been to show a bit of the grey that exists in people's lives - that even after the first few years, the aftershocks of losing a parent/husband are still vibrating.

How will "The Untouched" even know a fraction of our experiences if we don't tell them? I once read a comment by the famed and elegant interior designer and author, Alexandra Stoddard. She was a single mom for two years following her divorce when her two daughters were quite young before remarrying. Her comment was that she just has the most ultimate amount of respect for single parents, having been there herself and knowing what that reality entails. I think most people must have some concept of the hard reality of single/only parenting but sometimes I'm not sure why it is so difficult for others to extend some sympathy, comfort and caring. Maybe to ask for understanding is impossible because unless like Alexandra Stoddard who has been there, people don't know what it is really like unless they're there too. But certainly sympathy can be extended and kindness.

Those traits seem to me at least to be rather lacking in our society now too. What happened to that "Random Acts of Kindness" movement from some years back?

I blog for the emotional connection I receive from interacting with other widows and widowers. It has been my saving grace. The first time I communicated with another widow my age who was griping about having to handle the winter elements (shoveling, scraping) on her own, I felt an actual high - I wasn't the only one out there in the universe grumbling about taking out the garbage by myself yet again. But I also blog to relate my life in the hopes that maybe someway, somehow a reader will gain a new perspective that will lead to a positive outcome in some way toward a widow or widower in their life present or future.

I'm reminded of an incident that happened a few weeks after my husband's death. Our property was a double, heavily-wooded lot with a major amount of raking that needed to be done every fall, taking weeks to complete. That first fall I wanted to do it myself because the physical exercise helped me with my grief - I could think and work at the same time - it was a very therapeutic activity for my healing at that time. Now the neighbors all knew my husband had died and I'd received sympathy cards from them. One afternoon I stood astounded as I watched one neighbor use a leaf blower to blow the leaves from his yard into my backyard. I was outraged but if I hadn't been suffering from some PMS probably would have held my tongue. But I approached the guy and called him on his actions. He stood in front of me, leaf blower in hand and flatly denied blowing his leaves in my yard. I remember replying, "I've just been standing here watching you do it - what a terrible thing to do toward a new widow." He didn't reply.

Friday, August 27, 2010

All Winners

The boys attend just the greatest school - that is why it was so difficult to transfer them and why I ultimately chose not to move in with Sam last winter. Having made the decision to stay here so the boys can finish high school, I'm resigned to that fact. I remember my therapist telling me there were pros and cons to moving or staying - that ultimately whatever decision I made would be the "right" one.

School has been back in session now for a week and the first home football game was tonight - last week was a practice scrimmage. My oldest had to get to school early this morning because there is a parade in the hallways for all home games. The band drum line leads all the varsity players around the school hallways at the start of school. How wonderful is that! I've never heard of another school doing that! Before every game too, they are fed a catered dinner!

Then tonight, at the game, the drum line leads the team out again in a long procession starting at the hill by the baseball fields and progressing down to the football field. You hear the drum cadence from a distance and I always get goose bumps! My son related that he had goosebumps being in the procession too! The drums get louder and the drummers and team then march through a huge, long tunnel made up of the rest of the band, the cheerleaders, dance team and JV players. The starting line-up is announced and the boys run through this giant banner - there are also plenty of giant flags being waved on the field, along with a dressed-up mascot.

My youngest son, who runs varsity cross country and isn't playing football got dressed up tonight to lend his support as a "superfan." The theme for this game was "rednecks." The students were dressed in flannel shirts, torn jeans, bandanas and straw hats. The kids in the stands put on their own show. As we all walked up the steps into the stands, they made an arch with their arms over us and cheered everyone in. Some of the boys were shirtless and covered with body paint. Their cheers and antics were almost as enjoyable as the game!

Whenever our team made a touchdown, two cheerleaders ran in front of the stands carrying a huge flag. They were followed by three of the "rednecks" carrying smaller flags. Everyone was pumped and in high spirits.

My son had a decent amount of playing time and made some plays - his name was announced over the loud speaker. He was also the defensive captain and relayed all the plays from the coach to the players. When I see him in that role, my chest swells. I was proud of both my boys tonight. And very happy that they are so popular with many friends. It is a consolation that despite all that has happened, they have thrived and flourished in school.

Tonight I just tried not to dwell on sitting alone and did my best to focus on why I was there - to support my terrific sons. The fall sports booklet was being sold by the boosters and I purchased one for $2.00. All the team photos are in the book and my oldest as a senior had his photo and name printed individually. Both of my boys are handsome and photogenic. They represent their school as leaders, each in his own way. And attending tonight's game I held my head up - all of us were winners tonight, not only the team.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Great Divide

I got a nice comment from Leslie about a recent post, in which she honestly related that she wasn't able to comprehend the magnitude of "only parenting" until experiencing it as a widow, herself. She labeled the difference between being able to understand and not, "The Great Divide." I love that description. I see in my mind two great mountains in view of each other but being separated by the deep canyon between them.

It has been an ongoing frustration for me to live with the Great Divide coming between myself and those I interact with, especially those closest to me. I have tried without much success to try and explain what middle-aged widowhood has been like for me, especially the aspect of only parenting. Usually my attempts to describe my life are met with the response of diminishing my reality - "Oh it can't be that bad." "You're making more out of things than you should." "Why are you always complaining, other single moms don't."

Thanks to Leslie's comment, I can appreciate that my efforts at explaining my world are probably pretty fruitless and I need to give up the fight of trying to bridge the Great Divide. But there are times when I do need to explain myself and I wish there was some easier way of trying to get my point across without me always feeling misunderstood and diminished.

About the only times that I have truly felt understood on an honest level have been with my therapist who specializes in grief and when I was communicating with a single dad of four kids - now he got the meaning of tired! Also, with the interactions I've had through blogging.

I don't live in an urban, diverse community. In fact, the suburban area I do reside in was sighted by the U.S. Census as being one of the three highest in the United States in regard to the number of married couples living in it - 69%! Add to that statistic the fact that just 3.7% of the population in my age group (45-54) is widowed. So there you have it - the Great Divide evident in black and white. The vast majority of people in my life and my community don't get it and there aren't a whole lot around who do that I can seek solace with.

They left all this out of those grief guidelines and books I read at the start of my widowhood - how to really deal with the fact that most people won't get it, or they'll try to talk me out of my own reality. And that it will be a challenge to find support, sympathy and understanding.

I thank Leslie for her honesty because reflecting on all this, I've come to the realization that part of my anguish is the result of the huge frustration I experience in trying to unsuccessfully explain my world. If I give that up, I'll lose all of that. Because it seems as though the answer here is in the acknowledgment that I can't really explain or describe my world to those living on the other side of the canyon. I'm setting myself up for failure because it is impossible.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Envy Update

I've been doing some online research on that dreaded topic, ENVY. This is what I've come up with so far.

- Envy is related to wanting something you don't have, whereas, jealousy has more to do with taking something that isn't yours or having to give up something.

- Envy is considered a very negative trait and that is why it is hard to openly discuss. People are very uncomfortable admitting feeling envious and those who do face criticism.

- But it is a very common and normal reaction in grief or otherwise.

- In relation to the "Stages of Grief," envy is tied in with anger, which is the second stage (although today, the order of the stages isn't considered as important and it is acknowledged that they can be mixed and matched, and returned to time and time again.)

- A grieving person tends to be envious when they feel they have been wronged through no fault of their own. They also tend to feel powerless in regard to turning their lives around.

- Interesting enough, a person usually is most envious of people they identify with and are similar to (in my case middle-aged, middle-class moms).

- Also, what is usually the object of the person's envy is that which the person holds most dear to them (in my case marriage and a husband/intact family).

- Although I came across numerous references to envy being a part of the grieving process, there were very few recommendations for how to work through the emotion - except strongly worded references saying how bad it is to be envious. Suggestions I did find are related below.

- You can't just tell a person to stop being envious. Doesn't work.

- What does work is for the person to fully experience the emotions behind the envy vs. stuffing the feelings or denying them. That means staying with the feelings when they take over and to try and understand where they are coming from and why.

- Once a person has an idea of why they are feeling envious and about what, ways to manage the envy include diverting your thoughts to another topic (changing the subject). Also, and this one made a lot of sense to me, when the feelings overtake you, to start thinking about your personal strengths, successes, etc.

There is another football game on Friday so I'll see how I feel sitting in the stands with my lonesome. It'll still be hard - I'm not expecting the envy to just go away. But I tell you I will be holding my head up and will not be down on myself for feeling envious for what I long for and so dearly miss and have been missing for many years now, simply because the cancer hands of fate took my husband away from me and my boys.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Makeover Needed

First football game of the season. I was proud of seeing my son play and his role as defensive captain. But sitting in those stands alone brings such pain on my soul. I could feel myself seeth at all the women around me, leaning into their husbands, having their husbands help them up the steep steps, hating them as they smiled and waved to friends - other married moms. I despise myself that I feel such anger and resentment toward people I don't even know.

My close girlfriend sat with me a short while, then a woman behind me chatted throughout the game. It was nice that she made an effort to communicate. Most people don't. And I did my best to be pleasant as we talked.

I see myself as careworn. All this worry about finances and parenting on my own has been hard. I don't readily smile. I'm sure I look anxious and upset when I'm out. There is too much on my plate and I think it has started to show. No longer can I keep it inside me - it has started to seep out with the way I look externally. I would go as far to say that widowhood's toll is doing nothing to help my looks. I am feeling ugly and it has gone beyond a bad hair day.

The other women in the stands tonight looked more rested, prettier, less stressed, up-to-date, thinner, healthier. I am beginning to feel and look like a frump. I need a hair cut, new clothes that fit (mine are baggy). In short, I really think I need an entire makeover. It would perk me up and make me feel better about myself. In my opinion, if anyone is in need of a beauty makeover it would be a widow. If ever I am in a position to give back in the future, that will be my mission. To participate in a program or start one that provides makeovers to women in my position. God, I would be happy right now with a box of Crest Whitening Strips - any little boost to raise my spirits and provide a lift.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Here and Now

I don't like being a widow but it is who I am right now. The thought of attending the football picnic/parent meeting on Saturday afternoon yet again alone, and being in the bright light munching on chips by myself surrounded by couples fills me with such dreaded despair, I don't think I can go. It is the first time I'm throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. I can't do it anymore. I'm choosing not to go because I can't stand the pain. It is not worth the effort it takes me to buoy myself up at such events. Seven years of it and I've reached my threshold. Enough is enough. I'll go watch my son play in the stands where there is some cover but being thrust out into the throng of a picnic is another story. Trying to make small talk with people I don't know and will never interact with again ...

I don't want to be a widow anymore but face it, for the immediate time being it is what I'm destined to be. Hard to denounce a part of yourself. I dream about my past life as a relatively happy wife and mother, when I was productive and felt safe. I'd say as a married mom I flourished. I took flight and soared. Widowhood has been a downward spiral on so many levels. But at its core, I have felt unsafe and insecure. I'm tired of all the pep talks about being strong and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Sometimes you just come to the end of your rope like I'm feeling about attending the football picnic. I can't take another step forward.

A couple years ago I read a post by a widowed mom who wrote similar words. She was tired of being alone, tired of dating, tired of solo parenting and even tired of life itself. I totally got what this mom was saying and feeling. I'd been there and I'd go there again.

So I dream about my past life and dream about a future one where hopefully my life will be restored to some degree. I long for a committed partner (husband) and to be part of a mature, growing and giving partnership. Sharing a household and life would ease up the daily financial struggle I'm involved with and make it hopefully less difficult to get my boys through college. I want to be part of something bigger than myself and have a partner to lean on as well as to provide support to. A real grown-up give and take relationship with sex and a companion for social events. I do also dream of a small home or townhouse where I can garden again. But mostly I desire the security and safety I derive from being in a committed relationship (marriage).

Here I am dreaming about the past and dreaming about the futue and hating the present. Just hating it beyond words and also feeling sad and depressed about it. I want to run away from where I'm at right now. Back to the past or get thrust into the future. Anywhere but here.

But I think here is where I'm supposed to be. Maybe not embracing or even accepting it but at least not ignoring it or trying to push it always away. I'm rereading the book by Dr. Judith Sills "How to Get Naked Again." It is basically a dating guide for the middle-aged, but I'm getting a whole lot more than dating advice. Dr. Sills talks about the need to acknowledge our identities as to where we are right now today, not where we were or where we want to go. When I read this I realized how much I have been fighting my widowhood by struggling to be the same person I was as a married mom and how I've been on a quest to escape it as quickly as possible - fight and flight.

But Dr. Sills argues that to move forward, the first step is to live as fully as we can within our life situations. She also refreshingly disagrees with the emphasis on the Law of Attraction's striving for what we want to bring into our lives. Tha shouldn't be the mainstay of our energy. All of this for me means facing my widowhood rather than hiding from it. I don't think that means I have to force myself into situations that cause me pain or discomfort anymore like the football picnic. I still have the right to protect and shelter myself. But I have to stop myself from focusing on the fantasy of my past and the future and devote more on my attention to life right now. I'm still trying to figure out the logistics of how to do that - always easier said than done. I guess a start can be acknowledging where and who I am right now - "I'm a tired, widowed mom who doesn't feel up to going to the football picnic because it is a reminder of my being alone. Maybe I would meet someone interesting at the picnic but I don't have the energy to go this time. And it is okay to sit this one out. There will be more social opportunities in the future."

Sunday, August 15, 2010


A few weeks ago in a comment she left me, Thelma asked what I would offer as advice to my clients struggling with comparing themselves to others, etc. And so this post is in reply to that question.

First of all, I think that we get down on ourselves and start the comparisons to others when we're going through rocky times; when times are particularly difficult and we're just depressed in general. I know that I pretty much didn't care about other people or what they had or were doing when my own life felt relatively happy, safe and secure. So the initial plan of attack might be to bolster up one's mood and overall feelings.

When I get down and out, I become way less active to the point of even hiding out and doing nothing - not even reading, knitting, housework, watching t.v. or exercising. I rotely make dinner, shop for food and care for the boys but I certainly exert very little effort on myself. Imagine a person just lying in bed for the day and you get the idea. My plan of attack then has to incorporate "Action" of any kind - something, anything, it doesn't have to be major or earth shattering. Just getting out of bed and doing some of the dishes. Or forcing myself to take a shower even if I am not going out. To get moving even though my mind hasn't yet caught up with the action being undertaken.

Sitting around and moping usually sends me into a downward spiral quickly. Energy feeds on itself and the more down and out I become. It is necessary to try and incorporate some physical exercise into the day to get the body and brain functioning. It can merely be a walk around the block but some kind of physical activity.

When we're feeling low it can be related to the sense that life seems out of our control. And I have always been a believer when those times hit that we must create order and try and bring some measure of control into our lives. Even in the midst of chaos there are aspects of our life we can control. For instance, we can focus on maintaining a clean and pleasant living environment - we can undertake to organize our bookshelves, we can clear out a drawer. Whatever the action is we can come up with something that will empower us to feel as though we have some sense of power over our lives, that it is not all left to chance.

Jude crafting a gorgeous and complicated cross stitch Christmas tree skirt as a gift inspired me with this one. She has been working on the craft since March. Setting long-term goals or having projects to work on that lead into the future is another way to deal with the sense of helplessness. "I will start reading Moby Dick and stick with it once and for all..."

I know a lot of people recommend reaching out to others by volunteering and the like but I think that at times like these, the volunteering needs to go toward you. That it is okay to be selfish and dote on yourself a bit. And especially to not to come down hard on the fact that you may be engaged in a level of behavior that you wish you hadn't stooped to. It's okay to be there because that is where you are and you wouldn't be there otherwise.

Laughter - this one gets recommended a lot too and to get caught up in a comedy or sitcom takes some of the pressure off from your own worries and problems. And we all need a break from ourselves and our lives.

And finally, instead of focusing on the past and worrying about the future, just trying to focus on the here and now - getting through the day as best one can.

Action Plan

1. Do something, anything other that sit on the chair or stay in bed.
2. Get moving and engage in some sort of moderate exercise.
3. Exert a sense of control over some aspect of life but don't make it an impossible or overwhelming task, e.g., start cleaning out one closet a week vs. trying to do all closets in one day and ending up more discouraged than before.
4. Engage in a pleasurable long-term goal/project. By taking little steps we can see progress toward the future.
5. Be kind and gentle to yourself.
6. Incorporate laughter and lightness into life.
7. Focus on the here and now instead of obsessing about the past and the future.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"What A Cute Bag!"

Hearing and receiving a compliment can go a long way toward brightening your spirit and outlook. I read something that made me reflect on this and had the realization that it has been ages since I've gotten one. And boy I miss it. I want to know that I look nice, or my outfit looks good or the color of my shirt compliments my complexion. Just something to know that I've been noticed and perceived favorably. These days I feel invisible much of the time.

Since widowhood, the aloneness of not sharing a life with a partner has led to some realizations. One of which is that I don't think people in general hear enough good things about themselves. So in an effort of scattering random acts of kindness, I became much more verbal in giving compliments when I'm out and about. This has been going on a number of years and increased two-fold after widowhood. I'm not a shy person so have always been willing to chat in check out lines and such. But now I seem to be on the lookout for noticing other people and wanting to convey positive comments about them.

Usually, it is about someone's appearance, their outfit, haircut, cute purse, shoes or coat. Sometimes I will remark about an interesting item in their shopping cart or notice the book they are reading. I have been known (to the horror of my sons while they are in the car) to stop in front of people's homes when they are out gardening to say, "I've been driving by your yard for years and it always makes me smile, it is so lovely and well-tended." For all the hype about Karma and receiving back what you give out, I don't hear many compliments in return. Kind of sad. Right now the compliment bank is on empty. And we can all use words of recognition and praise.

Being recognized came pretty naturally while I was married. My husband would compliment my cooking and the work or school reports I asked him to proof read. Whenever I bought I new outfit, I'd model it for him for his feedback, usually positive. I didn't feel neglected or invisible. We'd go out and I'd dress for the occassion because I wanted to look good for him, to please him and make him proud. It was important. I still want to look good for myself but the incentive isn't as driving as it was in the past.

"You look nice today." The power those four words can bring. To feel important and valued to someone. When I feel invisible, I begin to doubt myself. To assume I'm ugly, unattractive and getting dull.

A jewelry store has buttons printed with the message "You are loved." I think we all need to know and hear this. Yet living alone, reduces our opportunities to gain positive recognition. I don't care about my educational achievements or my parenting abilities. Sometimes we just need to hear a superficial "What a great haircut" to bring a smile and a sense of worthiness.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Can I Use This?

I have been struggling throughout this summer with comparisons of my life to other's and have been sending out the plea, "How can I deal with all this adversity?" Today, maybe I received a reply.

Reading through the daily newsletter I receive daily, "Lifescript," I saw a link to the very topic of adversity and immediately clicked. It was a question posed in the May 5, 2009 newsletter by a woman who wrote, "I have experienced extreme hardship and advrsity. How do I deal with it?" Now I could have been the same one asking this so I eagerly read the reply from the resident life coach.

The reply began with the reality that periods of hardship come into everyone's life, that adversity is part of the life experience, but that yes, there are some people out there seeming to get more of their share - some people's experiences are more severe. I'm grateful for this acknowledgment because so often I think that people try to ignore this fact or try to diminish it by saying everyone deals with hardship, grief and pain. Just having someone nod their head in agreement that some of us get dealt a way heavier hand gives me some peace. It helps me not think I'm crazy or bitter for believing that my life hasn't been a bed of roses. But I'm getting off track with this. That isn't the point of this post. I just get frustrated when people try to diminish my hardships as I suppose anyone would by simply saying all humans end up suffering. Especially when the hardships I am trying to cope with don't seem to be abating.

But the real point here is for anyone suffering through hard times or adversity right now regardless of the severity is that all of us can benefit from adopting a different mindset. The key is not to ask "How can I get through this?" but instead, "How can I use this?" When I thought about this immediate relief flowed through me. I've been grasping at straws for the keys to help me endure this rough period of my life. And that might not be the way to help me through this. Prayer, positive thinking, emotional support from family and friends and counseling are all lifelines in times of trouble but they may not give us the motivation to strive forward that a new perspective does.

As an option to the self-help measures I've been seeking, asking myself "What can I learn from this pain?"

"How can I grow from this experience?" and

"How can I be a better person because of this hardship?

release me from trying to find a cure from my misery and heartache. I'm removed from having to fix myself and the situation immediately or to even feel better about it. I don't have to pretend I'm strong or to admit that this is a life lesson I'm happy to be learning. I can simply let the reality of my life be and exist around me while propelling forward with the hope that in the end, I'll become a better person. Such a relief. Because I'm not sure there are any answers out there to surviving adversity. You suck up and get through it as best you can and it is crummy and hard and painful.

I'm not going so far as to say that there is a silver lining behind all hardship - I'm not there yet. But I am willing to believe (with a glimmer) that from negative experiences, we can strive for better futures and that in the end, they can be built.

"How can I use this, what can I learn, how can I grow, how can I become a better person?" I don't have immediate answers to any of these questions right now but they seem to provide me with a relief "How can I get through this?" never did. It gives me more strength and power to hang in rather than try to totally delete this part of my life, which most of the time seems to be the best but not easiest option. Because in the end, you just can't cut out certain parts of your life - they're there and you're stuck with them as much as I wish the past seven years would just go away. But we are a sum total of all our parts and experiences from all our years here. So rather than fight and run away from the adversity beast, I have to finally face it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

It has been very hot here the past week as it has been across the country. There is a heat advisory until tomorrow night for Chicago. I grumble and am cranky in this weather. My hair gets frizzy, my face is shiny and I feel cooped up because it is too hot for much outdoor activity. Then I get upset that I have to run the air conditioner so much and I worry about next month's electric bill.

In the winter I curse the snowstorms and cold. It seems as though the weather is always unstable. There is never a calm period of a week or two of weather that is pleasant, clear and without excessive humidity or freezing below zero temps.

The weather extremes seem to echo my own life. I just want a period of relative calm where I can "recover" a bit from all the chaos that we've been living through. Just a week is all I ask. But there always seems to be something that comes up - emergencies with car reparis or financial setbacks. I'm begging for an opportunity to go to bed without fretting and to wake up without dread in my heart.

Maybe some people crave excitement and the energy and high that comes from the unknown. But give me the safe, stable and predictable. That is when I shine and grow. They say change forces you to become stronger, to expand beyond your boundaries. But I've come to find that I'm more likely to take risks and chances when the rest of my world is mundane and ordinary. When my world is out of control, I just want to retreat within and huddle inside - I become afraid to venture out and become lethargic and unmotivated. I suppose my depression and lack of motivation are ways to counteract the chaos I feel raging around my life. I am so afraid to leap out into the tornado of life, I slunk back into my burrow.

Dealing with the extremes and the out-of-the-ordinary take excess effort and I'm fatigued. I don't have the energy to start facing the world with a smile on my face and spring in my step when I've been trying to slay the dragons of figuring out how to feed my family with nothing left in the bank and juggling bills to fix the van. I need to revive myself and that sometimes comes about naturally with just a period without radical ups and downs. Maybe the cool front coming in over the weekend will be the start of that restoration.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To Those Living in the Light

I continue to reflect on the fact that I have been comparing myself and my life to that of others, who have it seemingly better. I read that we tend to do this when our lives are in the pits and I would agree with that - when times are especially challenging and hope is at a minimum, fear rampant. I've tried to take all the recent comments received and think on them with positive intent. But I continue to believe that life situations, problems and so on can be rated. I guess I am curious as to why when we live in a society that consantly "rates" events and things, that it is somehow so awful to compare yourself with others who have led less complicated and sorrowful lives. We rate and classify our driving insurance premiums, our weight, our blood pressure, heath, credit ratings, grades in school, academic as well as sporting ability, and looks., etc. Many of these "ratings" are beyond our control. So are some of the things that happen to us and befall our lives like the big "D."

And there are differences in situations and levels of grief. I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing to admit this. It is an observation, not a contest. An observation that yes, we look at the death of someone who dies at age 90 having lived a very full life differently from that of a person of 25 who dies. Death is crummy either way but I feel safe to say that it is significantly more sad for the 25 year old and their family.

Many of you wrote that comparisons serve no real purpose. In thinking about that I would say that one of the purposes they do serve is to hurt the person making the comparisons. The flash of envy I feel for the baseball mom pulling up in her Lexus doesn't pain her, but it does send a stab of hurt into me. I have determined that maybe some of the reasons I constantly set out my list of woes is to reassure myself that it isn't and hasn't been all my fault. My comparisons are in a lopsided way a kind of last ditch effort to make myself feel less to blame for what I've had to experience if that makes any sense. It makes me feel less of a failure and that I am a "bad" person deserving of having a husband who died and another who cruelly left me. Maybe pointing my finger at someone more fortunate serves some sort of survival purpose for me because I do believe that we engage in behaviors that at their core serve some value even if it may not seem that way to others.

Anger, resentment, frustration and even rage are all normal reactions to life stressors and grief. My problem is that I currently lack the skills to transfer those powerful emotions into something more constructive and healing. I can't just snap my fingers and stop feeling envy. I can be conscious of it when I feel that way and try to divert my focus elsewhere when it happens but it just doesn't happen immediately. The grief self-help books out there all acknowledge the reality of our emotions but I have not found any with step-by-step suggestions on how to "work on" these issues when they loom up out of control. And in this case, are my feelings really that abhorrent or deviant when the entire situation is taken into consideration? For a rough period of time when finances were stretched to the limit and I was in the constant company of the "Baseball Moms," I indulged in some comparisons and self-pity. I didn't neglect my sons, I was out there cheering the team and doing my best to stumble forward. I didn't yell at anyone or emit insults. I quitely obeserved, obsessed and was sad. Now the tide will slowly turn and I'll try to grapple with this issue to be able to more constructively move on.

What is ending up bothering me the most now that all the dust is settling, is that those of us truly suffering with a huge amount on our plates of bad stuff, are supposed to be somehow more virtuous than others. I'm supposed to act and feel normally and not make any waves. I'm supposed to be able to rise above the pettiness and jealousy accepted as a matter of course in other people's behavior.

One of the reason I continue these reflections is to give a voice to those out there suffering beyond the initial loss of a death - those struggling with other conflicts and hardships - multiple layers of grief and loss that stretch out the traditional mourning period for many years. That is a factor in all of this. Years of grief is wearying and tiresome. Strength and hope become buried and lost. To be grieving and hit with another bombshell and then another ends up with its own set of consequences. Bereavement becomes a bit more complicated, drawn out and frustrating. Especially when life keeps plunging downward instead of improving.

The Rabbi Pesach Krauss advises in "Why Me? Coping With Grief, Loss And Change" that it is futile to tell people what they're doing wrong when they are in the midst of feeling grief and despair. They will not be able to accept or process any advice. The key is to provide sympathy such as "I hear your frustration and upset in regard to the unfairness of life. And I know you are dealing with these painful feelings in an effort to get through and beyond them." He also believes that there are those of us who will reach for the light and those of us who will get buried in our bitterness, pain and hurt. I admire the great many of you who are valiantly moving toward and living in the light. The jury is still out on which direction I'm going to end up.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ongoing Musings About Change

I don't think I adapt well to change - I've always resisted it and I'm not one who does well handling problems on their own. So for someone who has been forced to go it alone and had to face so much change not out of choice but out of necessity, yes, where I am right now is to look around me and put my hands up in frustration and defeat. Is this a stage of grief? It is not denial but a combination of rage and envy at the unfairness of life. How does someone work themselves out of this mindset? I can't just stop it or will it away. I have to work painfully through it.

I would be in a far different place if my husband had provided enough life insurance to pay off the house. But that wasn't my reality. Instead my reality is that I lost pretty much everything - my husband, my identity, my retirement, my security, my house, my financial resources, my place in the community, my entire world and life as I knew it. Again, I go back to the if we'd had enough life insurance. I wouldn't have lost my home, finances and so on. Those losses are just in addition to the main one of losing my husband, life partner, lover, friend and co-parent.

I feel like over the years I've lost pretty much everything with the exception of my health and the boys. That is a lot of loss and what I term as multiple losses and/or secondary grief losses. Some widows don't have to face financial destitution and I suppose there are others who are worse off than I am. But all I know is what I am dealing with and facing both past and present. I feel I have been stripped bare of everything that was a constant and known factor in my life. And I haven't done well going on and trying to pick up the pieces. Some of us aren't good in a crisis and lack survival skills or life skills or whatever you want to call them.

I've lost everything, I'm struggling to change, fit in, adapt and do the best I can raising two boys on my own. Am I supposed to go through life with blinders on oblivious to the fact that life isn't fair and others have far less of a hard time of it than I? I've always believed that there is both good and bad in the world and that somehow it all gets distributed evenly throughout one's life. But over the past seven years life has been so challenging I don't believe in the good much anymore. I am paranoid that evil and doom lurk behind every corner. The hope in my heart is dried up.

I believe that my attitude is based on how much loss I've had and how deeply it has cut into my soul. This is a perspective from someone who has faced significant loss (death of husband, divorce by second husband, major illness of younger son, death of mother, loss of home, loss of financial stability, loss of familial support, loss of boyfriend to move out-of-state). Those losses, and resulting stress and change are vastly different from that faced by say a 60-year-old woman with grown children and sufficient financial resources to stay in her home and live comfortably. I interacted with such a woman recently in the baseball stands, and while I was sympathetic to the loss of her husband, I had difficulty relating to her life otherwise. She didn't have to raise her kids singlehandedly.

I can't go through the rest of my life with blinders on blocking out the lives of others. So somehow I'll have to come to terms with all of this. And I hope to gain further insight into how those of us dealing with ongoing adversity after loss learn to deal with and cope with the aftershocks of grief. But in the meantime I don't apologize for feeling the way I do. Surely there has to be someone else out there who has struggled with this in the past or present.


This is an extension to my earlier post. Just the other day I was reading a novel (Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani) in which the main character faces the death of her mom and moving from her home. The author mentioned how these two events are at the top of life stressors. Reading this was interesting to me because I had been contemplating this very issue. I will use the example of the annoying baseball mom and the hypothetical issue of her caring for her parents. In real life her dad attends all the games and both parents are spry and chipper. But for the sake of an example I'll alter the situation so she is caring for elderly, sick, feeble-minded parents.

On its face, of course this is a difficult and trying situation. Many of us baby boomers are involved in this aspect of life. But it is generally easier (physically and emotionally) for a married woman to be involved in this task compared to a widowed mom with young kids as I was when I was involved with caregiving. So it is not the sad aspect of the situation that is different (caring for aging parents) but rather the circumstances surrounding that situation.

When I look at other people's lives what hits me is not that they don't have to face problems or grief, but rather that they haven't had to deal with so much upheaval in their lives. Perhaps that is where the difference lies. And it ends up having nothing to do with problems or grief but rather the upheavals surrounding difficulty.

The upheaval surrouding the death of a spouse and being left with children to raise alone affects so many aspects and areas of one's life, I don't have a short and sweet way to describe it. You are thrown into a tailspin, left reeling, spinning and dizzy, yet expected to get up, dust yourself off and bravely march forward. That is upheaval. Moving from a large home and into an apartment, selling a home to avoid foreclosure, packing and sorting and tossing all by oneself with no one to lean on is upheaval. Example baseball mom didn't lose a spouse and spend the next set of years raising kids alone. Nor was she forced to leave her home.

Yes, she experienced the normal range of daily annoyances we all do but she had the support of her husband next to her. So in the end it is easier for her to cope, deal with and face the issue of her aging parents. She has more energy and resolve because there has been less upheaval in her life.

The definition of upheaval is great agitation and change. When I look around me at the other women in my community, I don't see any who have moved or had to cope with the death of their spouse. Those are events of such magnitude, agitation and change. I think that is where my frustration has been lying. That the seesaw is so tilted in regard to the amount of upheaval the boys and I have had to face vs. less upheaval of others.

There is reason to be concerned. Some days I am so worried about finances and how the boys are going to get through college I believe I am at risk for cancer and/or a heart attack. It is widely believed that people with less emotional support in their lives face greater stress and greater health problems. Married folks (even those with problems and what marriage is perfect) have better health than those who are unmarried and desire to be so. I feel all of this when I'm with the moms and parents of my community.

There are various stress tests out there (even Dr. Phil had one in one of his books) that rate life events. If some of us have experienced far more of those events in our lives, of course our lives, perspectives and feelings are going to be different than those who have not. How can the bridge of understanding be crossed to give acknowledgment to those differences? Why is it such a bad thing for someone to say, "Gee, she's had to face a heck of a lot" instead of trying to always have an even playing score. Life isn't fair. People's experiences aren't either. What's the purpose of those life stressor tests anyway when all is said and done in the end?

I want to get past the feelings of unfairness and betrayal I feel when I compare my life to that of others. But it isn't easy for me to dismiss - perhaps because I am still struggling and life is so hard. Maybe these feelings will only dissipate when my life improves a bit and I start to regain some of the footing I've lost. Maybe when you're still caught up in the struggle it is too hard to be able to stand back and have a more alturistic nature.

There is a difference between a grief event/experience and then the upheaval that comes afterward. They are not one and the same. Maybe this all has nothing to do with grief but rather surviving upheaval, hardships and change that have wrecked havoc on my life the past seven years.

America's Got Talent

I continue this blog for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a way for me to grapple with and come to terms with my feelings. Sometimes I'm not clear about what I feel and setting out my quandries here, is a way to gain perspective. Secondly, this blog allows me to obtain the feedback of others and to interact with other interesting, intelligent people. There is a lot to be said for that. Maybe the most important reason for blogging is the hope that in my doing so, I increase or broaden the perspectives of others, be they widowed or not. This blog has kind of moved beyond the topic of grief to encompass adversity in general. I hope that in sharing my feelings, a greater understanding of what it is like to live under trying circumstances is reached. And one of my main goals is to illustrate the life of a person affected by multiple losses since that is not often discussed. Maybe in trying to deal with my life, I'll end up helping others in some, small way.

I've been giving a great deal of thought to the issue of unfairness of late. No doubt triggered by being around all the families at the baseball fields. We live in a town of higher than average income. For instance, I know of no one who has "lost" their home and had to move to an apartment. I know one family that has struggled to hang on to their home with the mortgage crisis with Countrywide and two who sold their mini mansions to move to smaller homes. So I do struggle with this issue because along with feeling alone and isolated because of widowhood and not having much of a support network, I also feel the stigma of being the only one to have lost my home. Now of course I know there have to be some folks in my community who have indeed lost their homes. But when you don't know of any, that is not much help or consolation.

I asked my girlfriend about all of this as it has been troubling me so. She agreed that the parents and families she knows have been pretty much spared hardship from the recession, etc. She attributes it to the fact that the circles we are involved with, or our kids are involved with, are simply made up of higher income people who can afford travel baseball. We're not around struggling people, therefore, we don't know of anyone dealing with severe crisis. And while I do know that people don't air their dirty laundry, it is not the same for a married mom of two to be caring for aging parents when she has a husband to lean on and rely on vs. my situation when I was involved in the same activity as a widowed mom of two young sons.

Part of my frustration could be labeled the "America's Got Talent" syndrome. I've never seen the show before this year - I guess last summer I was too busy packing up the house for our move. But the boys and I have watched it when we haven't been at baseball games. The whole concept of the show has really been bothering me. If you haven't seen it, it it a huge nationwide talent show in which adults and kids can pretty much compete with whatever talent they have. So you have singers, dancers and fire blazing magicians competing alongside others hand whistling and playing the harmonica. There are five year olds and 75 year olds! It is kind of a crazy, hodge podge mess!

What bothers me is that I don't think you can fairly judge apples to oranges. I want all the singers to be in their own competition and then even separated by those who compose their own songs vs. those who sing Fleetwood Mac. I want a junior vs. adult competition. I want the dancers to all perform in a sole dance show. How can you fairly compare a harmonica player with a hand whistler? Before this show I didn't even know hand whistling existed! Maybe the point is that you just can't compare such diverse people, talents, ages and acts. In the end, popularity and the performers who fit into the mainstream will be the ones who come out ahead.

Anyway, back to my own musing. I really get that EVERYONE our there is dealing with their own troubles. But what I struggle with is that all troubles are not created equal. Just as all talent isn't either. There are greater losses than others and some of us have had to face more than our share. That is my point. I won't dwell on it. But I did want to try and clarify my view on this topic.

So in the end what does this all mean for me? I guess I just want a bit of compassion expressed to those of us facing a significant amount of adversity. For others not to immediately jump in and chime "But everyone has problems." And I suppose I'm still trying to come up with helpful solutions to my own situation. How can those of us really struggling have an easier time of it? Where can we turn for more support? How can we learn to balance our problems with hope? For those of us with multiple losses, we're already tired and bogged down from having had to face numerous struggles. So it is a double whammy of dealing with loss and stress such as moving from a home, while facing adversity such as financial hardship. A mixture of grief, stress and anxiety all in one! No wonder the young woman who left home at 16 and was in foster care moved on in the AGT competition. Her story touched at the heartstrings of America even if she sang slightly offtune.