Monday, September 27, 2010

Apples, Leaves and Fall

As difficult and trying as life is and can be, I tell you, it just isn't a total loss when there are Taffy Apples for sale again, and brownies in the adorable shape of footballs (Little Debbie Snack Cakes).

The reason I am so rejuvenated after my nature walks is because I can see the miracle of nature around me. There is something bigger than me, a plan in place that goes far beyond my trivial problems (trivial to the world, not so much for me). But anyway, you get the idea. I am just a little cog in the sphere and space of the Universe. This is what I comprehend when I see a perfectly shaped red leaf float down from a tree and land at my feet.

There is a saying that no matter what life throws at you, you can always bake a cake. I'm not so much of a cake baker but I do love to bake bread, muffins and cookies. So we have had a nice sampling of apple, pear and pumpkin breads of late.

I continue to struggle facing up to all the changes that are necessary for me to go on from here to rebuild my life from the bottom up. I wish it were easier. Sometimes I still feel like giving up and packing it all in. But then I think about apple cider and putting together a German fest feast for the fun of it. And I realize there is still a lot worth living for - the little, unexpected pleasures that are part of our lives and oftentimes go unnoticed or taken for granted. It is focusing on those little joys and holding on to them with all our might when so much of the rest of the world rages turbulently around us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When Your Best Is Good Enough

Earlier, this summer, I titled a post "When Your Best Isn't Good Enough" and it was about falling short even after 110% had been given. I am happy to say that this week and weekend I felt that my best was enough, in fact, more than enough.

Homecoming Week - full of many extra activities and tensions. Sons worried about when to shave and breaking out. My youngest was embarrassed he doesn't know how to tie a tie and went on Youtube and figured out how to do it.

My youngest had a lot of excitement as a Powder Puff dancer and performed at the start of the week for the girls' Powder Puff football game and then for the school assembly later in the week. I was proud of him for participating as a male dancer - his older brother did it last year and it was so much fun. The football announcer called the boys' routine a "spectacle!" Just lots of fun and laughter. My youngest is less outgoing than my oldest but still very popular in his own right.

Then there were the football games for my oldest but he didn't see much playing time this week. His girlfriend's birthday was this week which added to the already hectic tone, since he had to go and get her gifts. Then there was a costume fitting for Show Choir no less, as well!

The boys and I ended up scraping together suit jackets, dress shirts and shoes that still fit. Although my oldest wore a shirt a little tight and my youngest son's shoes were a bit tight too. We ended up finding a new pair of dress pants for my youngest at the resale shop for only $4.00. Both boys contributed their own money to the dance but still needed some help from me. I chipped in for the dry cleaning, part of the money for a new tie for my youngest, gas money for my oldest and some money for the flowers for my oldest son's girlfriend. My youngest paid for his flowers. Both boys paid for the tickets and dinners on their own for themselves and their dates.

I have written before that I think these dances take up a great deal of "mom time" and for a mom already pressed for time it is even more stressful. The place where I usually order the flowers had an earlier order cutoff than usual and I was later in ordering than usual too because my oldest son's girlfriend didn't decide on what dress to wear until the last minute - and you need to know the color in order to get the flowers. So I had to find another flower place and ended up just going to the local grocery store floral department and they turned out fine - not as nice as what we usually get but acceptable. I was proud of myself for not over stressing out as I raced around to the resale shop, dry cleaners and florist.

I was in negotiations with the nice young florist making up the flowers for about an hour because my youngest son's date's dress was an unidentifiable color - some shade between blue and purple. There were no ribbons or flowers that matched the dress color so we ended up going with a mixture of blue and purple. Thank goodness my oldest son's girlfriend requested red roses. That was easy.

My youngest son and I spent two, yes, a total of two hours at our Kohl's trying to match a tie to the color of the purple-blue dress. I really liked a purple tie better - it changed shades from blue to purple depending on where you stood! My poor son had to go out to the parking lot for reception showing pictures of the tie choices to various friends on his phone for their opinions. Unfortunately, his date, the one whose opinion really mattered was in cheerleading practice and couldn't be reached. We ended up getting the purple tie. But then my son took it to school the next day and his date wanted the blue one, so I ran back to Kohl's to make the exchange.

The entire time I was in Kohl's I just kept repeating to myself, "Yes, life!" This is due to Flo's suggestion a few posts back - thanks Flo! Yes, the whole homecoming week and dance are stressful, especially for an only mom, but the end result is that my sons had good times, have wonderful friends who are nice kids to hang out with and had a decent dinner out. I was so impressed with my youngest about the crazy tie ordeal. He just kept telling me that he wanted to make his date happy, she is really just a friend vs. a romantic interest. Although he could care less about the tie, its color or style, he wanted to please this girl and give her what she wanted because the dance meant more to her than it did to him.

My youngest wanted me to go to the photo session at one of our country clubs where my oldest and his crowd was eating, since he is a senior. He also said that he was going to the dance more as a favor to this girl as a friend. But he promised to get me photos. And I can go next years when he is a senior. There was some pressure after he got picked up for the dance and had to come back because he'd forgotten the dance tickets!

So I went to the country club where it seems we just were for Prom and this time my mood was much improved since I had taken an anti-anxiety pill beforehand. Going and being alone isn't fun period for me and it never will be but I wasn't as moody or grumpy and tried to smile and act lighter than I have in previous years.

So in the end, despite our living under reduced circumstances, and the stress and strain of me being an only parent, which I hate, my best was good enough. The boys had a worthwhile time, both looked very handsome and I didn't totally freak out in Kohl's! Now both boys tell me they are going to the Homecoming dance at our other school in town, in mid-October. Both boys have friends at both schools and my oldest son's girlfriend goes there. They have assured me this dance will be easier to get through. I guess being popular has its price. But I have a few weeks to recover and maybe this time I'll just place the flower orders now!

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Want to be a Rock Hound

It was the fourth anniversary of my fated remarriage yesterday. Last year with moving and the year before with going through the divorce, I didn't focus or reflect much on the day. But this year there was extra space in my brain and much of the day was spent remembering the actual day, which was so lovely and full of hope. There was the anticipation of happiness which has been so lacking in my life these days.

I won't dwell on the whys or reasons of the marriage's demise. I deeply regret that my ex wasn't able to hang in there a bit longer. I think we had tremendous potential and it saddens me for the wasted and lost opportunities for love.

What I mainly contemplated during the day were all the activities my ex and I used to enjoy and engage in. We had a good time with shared interests and we liked spending time together.

We shared the Sunday paper on mornings spent at the ball field during the boys' baseball games, while sipping Starbucks. My ex introduced me to Starbucks - I'd never been there before meeting him because I am a tea drinker and thought they just served coffee. Boy was I in for a delightful surprise!

We enjoyed going to a Friday night fish fry in my locality - it became a tradition on our weekends. Since our breakup two years ago, I've never been back and the food was so good! I miss it.

I used to knit while my ex read the paper (he was a paper reading fanatic) and I found a vintage cross stitch sampler of a couple with the woman knitting while the husband read the paper. It was so cute and symbolized us as a couple.

We collected American antique art glass at my suggestion because I wanted us to have a new hobby we started together. We both got very into it and amassed a lovely collection by the time we divorced. He ended up with the entire collection and I wish he had been gracious enough to at least offer me one of the pieces as a memory. Since the divorce, Sam and I started our own little collection and I've gotten some of the smaller, less expensive pieces on my own. But it doesn't compare with the hours that my ex and I spent talking about our collection, sorting, organizing and cataloging it. It brought us a great deal of joy - just looking at it and remembering where and when we found certain pieces.

My ex and I shared the interest of rock collecting and had plans to hunt for fossils, diamonds and gem stones across the country. I had visions of displaying our finds in cases. We also loved to travel and had hoped to take short and long trips around and about.

And gardening! He was into vegetables and I was into flowers. I had ideas of revamping the back yard and turning the patio into a relaxing retreat.

We did some cooking together too. And both of us liked to get dressed up once in awhile for a fancy night on the town. I had hoped to entertain for his co-workers and have family over for big holiday celebrations.

When we read, he shared his news stories and he liked me telling him about the novels I was reading.

All such wonderful and fun shared interests and activities. Thinking of them throughout the other day I felt mostly happy because these are things that charge and excite me. I miss having them in my life. Basically my life is pretty much drudgery with not much enjoyment. When you have all that inspiration and creativity in your life shared with someone and then it just disappears it is hard to cope with that loss.

I want this stuff back in my life but lack the funds, time or partner to share them all with. I want to be a rock hound. I want to find a fellow rock hound to go rock hounding with me. Anyone out there? Chili chef and gardening fanatic are optional but would be nice too!

What I noticed most about my day of reminiscing was how little I write or even reflect of things that bring me happiness. Thinking of these activities brought me quite a bit of joy even thought I wasn't actually doing any of them. I sure need some more joy in my life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bone Weary

I am exhausted. I wish I could stay in bed all day. I am drained to the bone and have no motivation or energy. The little bit of energy I can eek out goes toward making dinner and forcing myself to take a half hour nature walk. That restores me a little. But I feel as though I am giving up and that whatever I do or don't do from here on in doesn't matter anyway.

How did I reach this place? Is it an accumulation of all the grief and losses over the past few years combined with the stress of living and parenting on my own? I guess it has all just caught up with me and I am left holding the bag of weariness. I do think a large part of it has to do with the only parenting. I do not believe any one should have to assume and face parenting without any support as I have. If single parents lack family support there need to be better and more available programs in place to provide assistance. I know that despite my education and intelligence, that this job has been the most difficult of my life and that it has been costly to my emotional and physical health.

My Mom used to tell me about two of her aunts who had lost their husbands while they were still raising children and the entire family rallied around them to provide support. I know in today's day and age that is less likely to occur. But that doesn't mean it is right.

It is not just the solo parenting and constantly having to make the decisions and dole out the consequences and be the moral instructor. There is no one to bounce off ideas to, or to fill up my emotional tank while I am engaged in the task of caring for others.

Today I went to the doctor for more tests related to my high blood pressure. There had been a mix-up with the prescription so it couldn't be filled until today. I was told to go immediately to WalMart to pick it up and take a pill right then and there. Concern was expressed for my constant headaches and the possibility I'll pass out while driving. I went and did as instructed feeling as I went through the motions, so what? I have no one to share this with, no one who is worried about my health. If I pass out and crash the sedan still needing $600.00 in repairs the only ones with a loss at stake are my sons. That aspect of my life horrifies me. That my social circle has dwindled to the point of me having meaning to only my sons.

I write about this a lot - what I call the fatigue and drain of widowhood. Getting up everyday and going through the day alone, sometimes not talking to anyone but my sons. I know that living and feeling alone are awful for anyone, but I know from my own experience that it has been hard parenting at the same time. I would have made a much better and able widow at age 60 with the kids grown, than I did still having to raise them throughout most of their childhood on my own.

I am hopeful that the anti-depressant medication will kick in soon and provide some relief from my apathy and tiredness. I am also hopeful that once I obtain a job somewhat related to social services that I will feel as though I am making a greater contribution and better about myself. I hope that leads me to meeting people I can relate to socially so my circle will expand and I can feel less alone. I want to remain hopeful that this too will pass and someday I will be involved in an intimate relationship that brings me peace of mind, security, love and affection - keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

But in the meantime I still have to cross this bridge of hard terrain stretching out in front of me. Why is it that my moods are so volatile? Before widowhood I was never like this. Yes, there were days I was bitchy or cross, sometimes even a bit down. But never to the degree of what I have felt over the past years and never the amount of fatigue and wanting to give up. Those moods from my old life passed quickly and were forgotten. These days the highs and lows are frequent and my lows stay longer than the highs. In the past eight years there has been far more sadness than joy - more hardship than ease. I'm not even sure I care that much about happiness and joy anymore. Just some stability, enough to eat and a few people who care that I'm alive, who value my presence. Perhaps when all is said and done, that is what really matters.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Social Graces

The other day when I went into the grocery store where I scout for discounted specials, one of the employees passed me and commented that I am always in there. I just smiled and walked by because I felt offended that I'd been noticed and I suppose somewhat ashamed that I'm in there daily to try and snatch a deal. But afterward, I thought about my attitude and the next time I saw this woman, I initiated conversation and admitted that I go in almost daily to check out the deals. She replied that her mother always used to do the same. I felt better that I'd counteracted my previous unfriendliness. I've been going to this grocery store for over 10 years - of course, the clerks know me. There is no reason for me to be ungracious or rude. So what if I go in every day to look for specials? The store comes out ahead because of my business. I shouldn't worry about looking odd or feeling ashamed of my shopping strategy. It has been what has putting food on the table for us the past year.

Today, I took my few specials to the checkout lane and was checked out by one of the middle-aged male managers. I pointed out how grateful I am that the store offers discounts and we got to talking a bit. He told me he was widowed last year and has five children, three of whom are older and out of the house or in college and two younger ones, around eight. He added that he checks out the daily meat specials himself. I felt a kinship and connection with him that never would have been realized if I hadn't made an effort to converse and reach out.

When I walked past the store employee earlier in the week because I felt criticized and embarrassed, the end result wasn't productive or positive. The same thing happened at a football game when I wasn't very responsive to one of the mom's saying hello to me. Later in the game, I realized my unfriendliness was rude and made a point to respond to her, admitting she had caught me with a bad mood. I then did my best to smooth over the situation.

These social interactions have made me cognizant that although I do make a very strong effort to be pleasant and kind when out in public, there are times that I resort to bitterness and I close myself off. In doing so I create disharmony - not good. Compared to the nice, interesting conversation I had with the store manager which definitely showed that lightness, openness and pleasantness are powerful social graces.

I know that none of us can be up and in great moods all the time, least of all me. But it was nice to be reminded this week of the ability I have to control some of my own destiny in a simple interaction that can set the tone for the rest of the day and that of the people I've interacted with. I was also reminded that I can blow it but then apologize and smooth things over. All is not lost if I goof up - there are second chances in which to make amends and heal wrongs.

I think in the past that I've worn my grief and loss as a badge allowing myself to blow people off or interact in public with a stoic distance. But I'm realizing that I can still feel all that I feel and have felt and still be decent to the innocent public who don't know me. It makes the world a nicer place for all.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Same Old, Same Old

I need help. I'm admitting it. There is too much stress in my life that has accumulated and gone on for too long. I can't do this alone anymore. I definitely need medication. My blood pressure is dangerously high. I know it has been high for a number of years now but I've resisted medication thinking I can control it because I eat such a low-fat diet, don't drink, exercise, etc. At this point, the doctor told me it has nothing to do with a healthy weight or exercise. My blood pressure is too high and I need to take action.

I wonder how much of the stress the past years have brought play into this. High blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks run on both sides of my family and it is how we end up dead. I still feel like a failure to some extent. That I'm unable to control this aspect of my health since I've tried for so long to keep it together emotionally. But as I started this post, I am finally at a point where I'm waving the white flag and crying out "Help me!" Since I don't have much of a support network in place, that ends up increasing the stress I try and manage on my own. It turns out to be an endless circle of frustration. The past few weeks many times during the day I can feel my heart racing inside my chest. When I have my blood pressure taken, I can feel and hear that racing.

I am going to become one of those people stopping at the blood pressure meter every time I go into the grocery store by the pharmacy counter!

Well, I have to take care of myself physically and if I need blood pressure medication so be it. I hope this is not a permanent thing. But the alternative is having a stroke which isn't an option here. I've helped the men and women stroke victims in the nursing home, some quite young. I can't do that to the boys. Or myself.

I came across another article on managing stress and decided to go through it and highlight the suggestions. They are always the same and we all know them. In fact, I'm sure I've posted about them a time or two previously. But they bear repeating.

1. Acknowledge the pain, stress, grief or loss. Feel the anger and sadness. It is okay to feel some self pity. But you can't let these feelings overpower you.

2. The painful feelings have to eventually give way to those of hope. To manage stress and crisis we need to be centered and calm and that won't be possible when in defeat and despair. So we need to harness abundance, gratitude, positivity and peace of mind as best we can. We can look to the future as holding opportunity, being an adventure and a new beginning instead of being fearful of what lies ahead.

3. We must take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. Eating well and exercising are essential.

4. Relying and connecting with others is also necessary.

5. Developing a strategy and plan for moving forward can help us focus on the learning opportunities available to us and allow us to grow.

6. It is a perfect time to become distracted with and explore a new project or goal. Sometimes it is far better to focus on an activity or learning something new than dwelling on our troubles.

7. Live one day at a time.

8. Maintaining a sense of order brings us a measure of control. Letting ourselves and our environments fall apart does not result in feeling calm or comfort us - more like tormenting and mocking us.

9. Come up with positives for the situation or in lieu of that, positives that can result in the future that may not have been considered before.

10. Maintaining the daily routine as much as possible is helpful. I know that my husband did this through all the years of his illness and I could not believe how he managed to do it. It was an amazing demonstration of strength and courage.

I look over this list and it is made up of the same old suggestions and ideas I've come across over and over. Does that mean they work or is it because no one else has come up with any better? I also know that this advice is common sense and easier said than done.

Yesterday, after my hopeful and inspiring post on optimism I ran into some snags during the day and felt let down and defeated. Some of that hope I'd harnessed before went by the wayside. I forced myself to take another nature walk and the best I could come up with as a coping mechanism was to keep my thoughts neutral rather than go off the deep end into the gloom and doom.

Sometimes, it seems as if this advice is so simplistic. We tend to look at life's problems as being singular - someone is coping with grief because of the death of a spouse; someone lost their job or home; another person is dealing with divorce or illness. I take a more complicated view of stress because I think where there is one problem, so lies another. And I think in addition to viewing problems singly, which makes them easier to solve, is that we don't put enough attention on the long-term effects of stress. We tend to view solving problems quickly and efficiently (usually within a year time frame). But I think the recession has shown us that problems and life complications can exist greater than a year and be harder to overcome.

So I find that there is a gap in acknowledging, understanding and coping with the long-term effects of stress. And what about set backs? Or having to manage the difficulty of climbing out of a very deep hole? All that one step forward, two step back progression.

Food for thought. In the meantime, we plow on as best we can. I look at the strategies I've set out and try to come up with some project that may help me focus less on all this loss and find more hope in the future. I try to exercise when I feel the walls of despair closing in on me. I do my best to change my mindset when I am aware of my negative thinking. More of the same old, same old with varying degrees of success depending on the day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A New View

I struggle with optimism. Since childhood, I have viewed life from the perspective of the glass being half full. People have often told me to lighten up and be more positive. But I don't think some of us can just flip a switch on inside ourselves to make this change. It takes recognition of our nature and thinking and then the hard work of trying to overcome it. And I'm not quite sure how to go about making these changes either. To just wake up and resolve to be more positive and hopeful - how do you go about it? There need to be steps or a plan to follow - a way to get started and ways to keep on track and motivated.

The daily message from and personal coach Dr. John H. Sklare is about optimism today. It is so good and inspiring I am repeating it here for my own inspiration and maybe for others in need as well.

"One of the keys to reaching your goals and bettering your life is an intangible human treasure called optimism. It's having 'hopefulness and confidence about the future or successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favorable or hopeful view.' Helen Keller wrote: 'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.'

Those of us who fall on the pessimistic side of life's fence have a much tougher row to hoe each day. Pessimism will drain your emotional batteries, poison your motivational well and leave you feeling lost, angry and frustrated. Optimism, on the other hand, will lighten your emotional load, bring more joy into your life, lift your spirits and make you a more pleasurable companion. A reader once commented, 'With each sunrise, there is a new opportunity to start over.' The perfect attitude to have if you want to bring a more optimistic view into your life."

Well, I'm going to try and remain focused on this advice because I can sure attest to the fact that thinking the way I do, always expecting the negative and being constantly worried and anxious is a very wearying way to live. It will be extremely difficult for me to try and think even a little bit more optimistically but I want to give it a try because the old way keeps me so down and out. I've got to try something different. Maybe the commitment to a new attitude combined with drug therapy will help.

It is like everything else I am learning. We have to work to make ourselves happy, we cannot expect others to make us so. Likewise, we have the choice to be optimistic rather than seeing the situation or journey pessimistically. It is up to us. But it is work and it is hard. Hard in the face of other struggles. Easier to revert back to old, predictable and comfortable ways of thinking and doing. So hard to make changes when so many other changes are going on and necessary.

I suppose, however, it doesn't take that much effort or commitment to simply try and be more conscious of how I think and to switch how I am thinking to a more positive frame when I am aware of my dark, dooming thoughts. Cut them off at the pass by simply refusing to dwell on the what ifs and forcing myself to hope in a positive outcome vs. one that is negative. Can't hurt to try any of this. It is not costing me a penny. But like all new resolutions and promises to ourselves, we have to practice and not give up.

Found Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's little book of daily inspirational quotes, "Positive thinking Everyday" on my bookshelf. I must not be the only one in need of a motivational fix and daily reminder. Today's quote from that classic book of inspiration is: "Faith power in the mind, like adrenalin in the body, can release amazing powers within you in crisis."

Some readers have been telling me all this for many months now. But looking back, I think when we're in deep mourning or grieving a loss, as I was depressed over moving from our home last fall, that you have to get through that stuff first. When some time has passed, you can move ahead and focus on going beyond the loss. At least that is how it has been with me. In the midst of grief I have not been able to think positively and hopefully. Advice such as be more hopeful and optimistic falls on deaf ears. In fact, it irritates me and I stomp my foot and resist that advice. Maybe we need to recognize this and be less harsh on others who don't seem to be moving along as quickly as we think they should. The element of timing is part of the process of being able to cope and move forward. Maybe I've reached a place where I can put my some of the sadness aside and concentrate less on the losses and more on the present. I sure hope so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Weight of Baggage and Burdens

Today I woke up feeling like I was bearing the weight of the world within my soul. I felt suffocated and had those gasps of fear people with panic attacks must experience. I could feel the insides of my stomach contract and my breathing became fast and frantic. All this grief and loss combined with the fear and stress from trying to get by has compounded to the point of feeling like there is some kind of bomb inside me that is going to explode.

I so wish I did not have to bear all of this pain around me. It is a burden and baggage that will always surround me. I hope someday when life becomes easier that I won't have to carry so much on my shoulders and that I won't feel so much of the weight of the past. But right now the past and present have combined to pretty much overtake my spirit and strength.

I called my family doctor and requested an appointment. I asked them to check for an earlier date when I was told there were no openings until next week and now have one for tomorrow. I'll tell this doctor what is going on and my symptoms and discuss options. I just know for now that the past and present bear too much on my soul and if there is something that can alleviate some of the physical symptoms, that would be a good thing. I am also having difficulty sleeping, only getting a few hours a night and that does not help me during the days.

Both of our cars now need work. My little sedan to the tune of almost $600.00 and the van, $135.00 if it only needs a new battery. I got a loan from the pawn shop today to pay for the van, bringing in my wedding and engagement rings minus the diamond which was sold during my divorce. Never in a thousand years would I have ever believed I'd need to go to a pawn shop, much less go into one on my own and negotiate but I held my head up high and accomplished that today. So despite the awful feelings within and those I carry on my shoulders, in addition to the weight that I feel floats around me, I did do my best to take care of business today. Worked on new resumes, made lunches, got the boys to school, cleaned up, got a referral for my son to get his vision tested, dealt with a credit card company.

I found out that we have vision coverage through Walmart, although it only covers glasses and my son prefers contacts. That means I can finally get a new pair of glasses for myself and will get some kind of reduction for my son's exam with the contacts - that will help!

So I am making it through the days but there is always such effort involved. Last night was the parent meeting for show choir which is $500.00. I had talked to the school about a financial break earlier in the day and then had to come up with a payment plan with the adviser. I was not the only parent to do so. I saw another mom and a dad pick up the financial payment sheet and each converse privately with the adviser. I ended up agreeing to make 6 payments of $75.00 and my son can also help out by selling school related fund raising items during the year.

The show choir is pretty amazing - it reminded me of the choir that is portrayed on the program Glee. My son is the only "jock" athlete of the group, with the majority of the kids being more into the theater, performing arts and dance. I asked my son if he will be comfortable performing for school assemblies and he is fine with it. I hope he is an inspiration to other kids that they can be in more than one type of activity. The athletes tend to only engage in athletic activities, etc. The choir director told me that one of the songs she chose for the group to perform was selected because she wants my son to have a solo in it. So that is a bright spot amidst all this struggle.

The sedan needs a new catalytic converter. It can still be driven but the motor is extremely loud and I am embarrassed. It sounds like I need a new muffler. I was told to keep the windows down while driving because the front pipe is broken near the front of the car and is leaking exhaust into the interior. I picked my youngest up from school and he started laughing about the car and told me that one day I'll look back on this and laugh too. I replied that I really don't think I ever will look back on this period and laugh. It is too difficult with more pain than gain. I'm having trouble staying afloat much less getting ahead or even remaining stable.

Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to stay with Sam instead of bringing the boys back here to finish high school but I have to stop that train of thought and just go with the fact that that decision was made, what is done is done. We've started my oldest's final year of high school and he is flourishing. So I won't look back and laugh at the hardships we're experiencing now. I do hope I look back and believe the sacrifices were worth it for my sons.

For now, I have to do my best to concentrate on getting through the days and hanging in there. I am hoping that the van can get repaired this week and we'll manage with sharing one vehicle for a month or two and then have the sedan fixed. In the meantime, I am glad I have that doctor appointment tomorrow because at this point, I'll take some extra help if it'll lessen the load of baggage and burdens I'm carrying.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Spirit of Love

It's sometimes hard not to get overly caught up and dwell on my own worries and concerns. I try and give myself a break because there is a lot of stress and turmoil going on with my life right now and my life sure isn't easy. How can I not worry and despair? It's part and parcel of my life at this time, pretty unavoidable.

But I still think that widowhood has increased my selfishness to an extent. Not having a partner to be a sounding board and helpmate gives me an awful amount of time to engage in self-rumination. Blogging is also a pretty self-indulgent activity. It does come down to "me, me, me" much of the time. Is that a bad thing? I question my selfishness and don't like it but then I realize that I really don't have anything to give to anyone besides my sons anyway. Then I consider all my years of volunteering and working in social services and I tell myself it is okay to concentrate on myself right now.

Widowhood has seemed to shrink my world. I no longer have a husband to consider and devote attention to. I know there are many, many others out there feeling the pain of grief and loss and struggling financially but a part of me remains disconnected since I am so in need myself.

I'm reflecting on my sidebar, where I relate that what really matters is love. And that is today's topic. It is all about love. The love that comes from inside us can be released and multiply into a universal energy if let it. If we make that our goal. It totally starts from each of us within. It is a spark that can erupt into a flame.

I say do all things with love, think all things with love, be love. I truly believe that but yet I lose sight of that in the day to day struggles of survival and getting by on my own. I need to remember and be more conscious of this belief. Love will rule out or at least soften anger. So if I am upset and crabby and can feel those emotions with an ounce of love for myself, that pain to myself and what I transmit to the world will be lessened.

Even in the face of hardship and difficulty I can choose to think about and react to most every conceivable situation with love. All this summer I struggled so much with feelings of resentment and envy toward other moms my age and in my community seemingly living easier and happier lives. I could have turned that energy over to love by concentrating on being more self-nurturing instead of trying to obtain external validation. This great concept is the brainchild of Julie who recently suggested it to me in her comments about an earlier post. Pure genius! The act of soothing my internal pain would have most likely helped extinguish some of the bitterness I was experiencing at the time. Just one example of how love can heal and that healing lead to being able to love others in addition to ourselves - the ultimate goal - to spread and sow the seeds of love to the best of our abilities, each and every day. Even being aware of our shortcomings and trying to work on them helps. We all need to refocus, regroup and recommit to our goals.

Today, I pledge to do my best to honor what I have learned about love, to make it the driving force of my spirit and being in and to all things.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hold Me

The day has ended with me needing a huge, comforting hug. Wanting someone to hold me and murmur soothing words of encouragement, telling me it is all going to be okay. A warm, nurturing body to embrace me and a kind hand to stroke my back and hair, to let me cry a bit of it out on their shoulder.

Where does someone like me get that physical support? I am convinced that as human beings, we all need that element of connection - emotional as well as physical. Maybe even the physical more than the emotional at times. I do my best to be there for the boys. When the day seems especially rough, I make a point of touching them or giving them a hug as well as providing verbal assurances. But I tell you, this widowed mom and only parent sure needs to have someone to lean on too. We all do.

What happens when we lack this basic requirement? I guess we end up surviving but life is all round more tolerable when it includes the element of human touch and compassion. I am beginning to believe that any problem or condition is tolerable as long as one can face it with some support from others. Lacking that, for me at least, has become my personal hell. Having to face all these issues and problems on my own is I fear, slowly killing me. A person can only keep it together so long, can only keep the home fires afloat before they too need to be carried part of the distance. A load can be borne on one's own shoulders for only so long.

I'm thinking of all the people out there besides myself who are without an emotional and physical connection in their lives. There are the elderly that live alone, and other widows and widowers. Children and wives in abusive households. People existing in love-strained marriages. I wish there were a hug fairy that made rounds to the hug-starved.

Tonight was the fourth Friday in a row that I attended a football game sitting alone in the stands surrounded by hundreds of people. Tonight as I contemplated my need for some physical contact, I was awe struck by how strange it was to be in the midst of so many people and to feel so utterly alone, invisible and lost. I saw various acquaintances in the stands, both men and women. What would have happened it I'd asked one of them to give me a hug after the game? Would that be considered too weird or does a person simply do what they have to do to stay sane? Or I suppose I could have just greeted someone I knew with a hug of my own and see if they'd respond with one back (not the males though, as all their wives were present and might get the wrong idea about my intentions).

We need physical contact and emotional understanding. How blessed it is when we can receive both from loved ones in our lives.

Summer Replay

This morning I clicked on a document for the heck of it wondering what it was. I was intrigued by the title. Turns out they were the words to a new song my oldest is composing. As I read, I was overtaken by weeping. The song is about the seven year anniversary of his Dad's death. Very heartfelt, beautiful words. On their own, even without music they are amazing.

My son, in addition to being a fine singer, guitar, drum and sax player also composes his own music. I have hesitated posting any of his lyrics here even though I have been tempted on numerous occasions. Most of his songs deal with overcoming adversity and becoming a better/stronger man. The love songs he writes are odes to supporting his love and being there for them, not deserting them but standing by. The first song he ever composed was back in middle school and was about his Dad. It is a very touching, surprisingly mature piece that was one of his garage band's main lineup. Now he is a solo performer with a voice along the lines of John Mayer. I have felt his lyrics to be so good, I have worried about someone taking them. I think they're that good and I'm trying not to overly inflate his skills because I'm his mom.

Anyway, my son won a local talent contest this summer. He had wanted to go to Milwaukee to try out for American Idol but the local contest was at the exact same time and I felt in my heart that my son, although very good, is only 17 and would be competing against artists in their 20s. He lacks their experience and maturity. So I pushed for him competing in the local contest, which he won. He performed an original piece and blew the judges away. One of the comments underlined three times was "You are very talented!" along with similar phrases. The fact that the song he composed and performed was so good was what got him the most praise. He has a great voice, excellent stage presence, is nice looking but boy can he write.

So now he is on to the next stage of the contest which is state-wide, held in Springfield in the winter. We'll see what comes of it. It means more exposure for him. At this point, he has enough original material for an entire CD of his own. Maybe for the heck of it we'll go ahead and get him on YouTube like all these other young singers. In my opinion, what sets him apart is that not only can he sing cover songs, but he writes his own material. Songs that have real meaning and can inspire people to do good things, live better lives, be more appreciative of what they now have. I just called my son who got out early from school to ask about this song. I asked him if he writes the music or words first. He told me the music first. I then asked him how long it took him to come up with the lyrics - only three days (and not much time on them that I can tell because he only works on them in his little spare time after school, football, seeing his girlfriend and homework. Wow!).

So the talent contest win was a nice aspect of the summer. Along with that there was football camp which is the entire summer for us, not just a week or two in August. Both boys played well on a summer baseball league, but my oldest was often absent for football and it was the youngest who made every game (the only one of the team of 16 players to do so) and he shone with his athletic skills. My youngest decided to quit football midway through the summer declaring that his heart just isn't in contact sports and he refuses to participate in a sport that isn't fun or meaningful for him any longer. I was proud of his decision which he spent a great deal of contemplation over.

My oldest participated in a volleyball camp and did work as an ump for the local little league until his sports schedule was too hectic. My youngest took a crazy condensed three-week driver's ed class and was one of the few who passed at the end, driving well enough to earn his license through the class so now after the nine-month waiting period he can just get his license instead of having to go to the DMV and take the driving test. I was so proud of him because I didn't have a lot of time or the gas money to let him practice much besides his drive time in the class.

As for me, I worked the entire summer consolidating and moving three storage sheds at three different locations into one location. It was grueling and a hellish job and mostly accomplished by myself because the boys were at school much of the time. I still need to go through stuff and get rid of things but at least I now have better access since this is an indoor facility, whereas before, I wasn't able to get to the sheds in the winter months.

So, all in all, a pretty full and rewarding summer. I try to focus on this when I debate whether we should have moved in with Sam or stayed here for the remaining years of high school. Now, with school newly started I am proud of my oldest playing football and he just made the Show Choir. He wanted to add a vocal group to his experience for his college applications and was sought out to join by the teacher adviser. She told him he was the best male singer in the group and would be given a solo. My youngest is performing in the Powder Puff Football male dance team like my oldest did last year and it was just hilarious! I'm glad he is doing it because he is less outgoing and a bit on the shy side compared to his older brother. He has also joined the Key Club, which I'm not exactly sure about what they do, but he says it is good for his experience. Both boys want more than just sports as their high school activities. My youngest also got a job on the weekends as part of a set-up crew for local fairs in the area.

They are great boys and I have to focus on that and them during these tough times. The decisions I've made have been with their best interests at heart and I can't lose sight of that and must keep in my mind the bigger picture.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Pain Crowds Out Joy

Yesterday, I forced myself to take a half-hour walk in a local small forest preserve. It was a small measure to take some time for myself doing something I enjoy. I love nature, the weather was cool and lovely and I wanted an opportunity to slow down and just be. I willed myself to not burden my mind with worries and problems and to just observe the still green leaves. I focused on smelling that scent that comes with the first start of the leaves changing - that musky, smokey, sunny smell! I looked for birds and other small wildlife and observed a large number of turtles on the murky pond. I listened to the muffled sounds around me. I also took the walk to give myself some exercise and have tried the past weeks to take a half-hour walk on as many days as I can.

Right now I'd say I've hit the bottom. Things are pretty bleak socially, emotionally, and financially. I'm barely able to afford decent groceries for the month and now have a needed car repair costing $600.00. My close girlfriend is busy starting her new job as a teacher at the high school and we haven't been in touch lately. It is necessary for me to look for and obtain new employment and I'm worried about that.

Now here's the thing I want to reflect on today. In the past, I'd say that once my life is more stable, then I'll feel better and be happier. But that is the wrong mindset to have. Turns out, the way we should be thinking is the exact opposite: in the toughest of times, we should be concentrating on building up our happiness stores. Because we won't be able to face and overcome the challenges and difficulties without it.

I came across this concept in a short article printed in the magazine "Whole Living body + soul," which is from the publishers of Martha Stewart Living. This article is from the October, 2006 issue, titled "How to Be Happy," written by Thich Nhat Hanh.

"When Pain Crowds Out Joy - If you're experiencing a difficult time in life, you'll need to bolster your feelings of happiness before you can work on your challenges. It might seem as if the reverse were true. But by nourishing yourself with happiness first, you lay the groundwork to address your pain."

"Life is full of suffering. If we don't have enough happiness on reserve, we have no means to take care of our despair. With mindfulness, we can preserve a certain amount of inner joy so that we can better handle the challenges in our lives. We then create a foundation of freedom, peace, and love within ourselves."

Well, this concept pretty much blew me away. I have thought a lot about it. The article recommends meditation and living in the moment as techniques. I sure wish it had provided more suggestions for people who've really hit rock bottom and in great despair. I suppose the ability to simply focus on the here and now and be more mindful is about as basic a suggestion as you can get. Like focusing on our breathing.

I guess in the end what I am more aware of is the need to focus on happiness and joy even in the midst of this life crisis. Taking a nature walk for me is a great treat and doesn't cost a cent. More on this topic in the future.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Judith Viorst in her book "Necessary Losses," raises a distinction in regard to the death of a spouse as differing from that of another loved one. She explains that when a spouse dies, an entire way of life is also taken from the survivor and that in itself becomes another death to surmount.

I really identified with this description, it just rings so true with me and my experience. Right now I see my life as one of having to be totally reinvented by myself from the ground up. It is as though I am emerging from the womb naked and at this point everything necessary for my survival has to be provided by me. In a way, I am now serving as a parent to myself.

I lost every aspect of my previous life with the exception of my education which I've always believed can never be taken from you. My financial cushion is shattered, the home to provide some of that financial security is gone, I've lost my social network, I don't have a career or job in keeping with my interests, skills or educational level, the absence of emotional love, support and connection that was the heart and soul of my marriage has left me bitter, hopeless and drained.

Here I am at 51 needing to undertake a total rebuilding of my life for all levels and aspects and I don't seemingly have the strength, energy or even desire to do so right now. I'm exhausted from the years of sorrow and the constant getting up and facing the day on my own. At 51 I'm not sure anymore how much my depression, anxiety and exhaustion stem from my age and the beginnings of menopause or actual grief. Why does it have to be one or the other? Maybe I am suffering from both!

I thought the other day that I probably have a good 20 years left in the work place where I can be productive to others and derive some meaning and satisfaction for myself. I need to make a concerted effort to seek employment in my field and to regain my qualifications which are outdated.

But I admit I am utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of having to reinvent myself at so many levels, from the ground up while being naked! I don't know where to start and my fear combines with me just not doing anything. I lack a plan - I don't even know how to make a plan on a course of action. There seems to be too much to do and everything to do all at the same time. Do I focus more on one specific aspect or goal or try to work on them evenly at the same time? Having a better job would improve the financial end of life but having a better social support system would make it easier for me to focus on my work life.

I feel in similar ways to that of myself as a college student. I had a tough time figuring out what to concentrate on and ended up getting my BA with the 5-year plan because I'd changed my major so often. But at least back then I felt the support of family and friends behind me. I knew if I made a mistake and failed there would be a place for me to go and guidance in helping me figure out the next step. Now I am in the position of trying to guide my sons to the best of my ability and figure out this new personal path and I am feeling crushed under the pressure and responsibility.

I know that the optimistic thinkers and doers out there can to point to this as an opportunity for great growth and potential. Like those speeches you'd hear about being able to accomplish your dreams and aspirations. But I tell you, I didn't have any clue ahead of time that this would become the new state and reality of my life. Around me others are thinking about retirement and relaxation. It is a rude awakening to be plunged into a world where what you knew and are familiar with has been stripped away. I need to work at a better job simply to survive and assist my boys with their college educations. I don't have a choice. And rather than inspire me to more greatness, that in and of itself isn't a motivator. I'm being forced to survive whereas before in my old life, decisions I made were based on what I wanted to do on my terms. Kind of like now being forced at gun point to keep trudging forward, rather than do so willingly. It does make a difference.

Sitting here and brooding about all of this gets me nowhere. I suppose in the end, whatever step I end up taking, in whatever direction it is going, is one small step toward the future and going forward and an improvement from stagnating in my current fear and indecision. "Take a step. Any step. Take a chance, any chance and see where it leads and what comes of it."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Birthday Blues

It was my birthday last Friday. I didn't post about it to let my feelings settle. Guess I wanted to see where they'd lead me. I did experience a letdown and some disappointment. I've posted about the lack of gifts in my life before - that is part of the reason Valentine's Day is so hard for me. Since widowhood, I haven't received flowers and gifts are a rarity. The ones you buy for yourself don't count.

So, on my big day I got a text message saying simply, "Happy birthday," a phone message and an email message. No cards, no gifts. Three impersonal messages not even given in person. I had to go to my insurance agent for a copy of one of my policies and did receive a "Happy birthday" in person there.

I struggle with whether I should be glad for getting even the message acknowledgments that I did. But I'm that half-empty glass gal and so instead I focus on the stinginess of the messages.

Now I should clarify that I have never sent cards to my family with the exception of my Mom when she was alive. So I shouldn't even expect anything from my family. And two of the messages were from family members. But I feel it would be better to have received nothing instead of paltry, duty messages. Instead of feeling noticed and cared for, I ended up feeling diminished and not worth very much if that makes any sense. Maybe I'm thinking about this all in the wrong way. But I know most days I don't feel very valuable to anyone and often I feel invisible.

I know I often disclose about my desire to remarry. How else will I have someone supportive to be by my side if I get sick like my husband was? I worry about dying alone now. There would be no one who'd come to the hospital and manage all the home care stuff that I did for three years nursing my cancer-stricken spouse. My sad little pathetic birthday is evidence of how small my social support network is. It will be up to me to try and reinforce and build it up by meeting new people and establishing myself in new social circles. But right now extra time is limited and my mood is so low it is hard for me to gain the incentive to get out socializing. I can picture it now - "Hey everyone - let's meet that attractive newcomer to our singles group - she is so depressed and negative. All she does is complain. We get so inspired by her life sucks attitude!"

All of us need to feel as though we are valued and important to others. I want to know that someone out there cares enough about me to go out and buy me a gift. In the past, before widowhood, my Mom always sent a card with a check, my husband of course gave me a gift and card as well as making sure the boys picked out something, my mother-in-law would send a card, and there would be cards and a cake at work.

All week I've told myself that my value as a person in this world is not dependent on whether or not I received a card or gifts for my birthday. I've told myself that my circumstances right now are what they are and not to take it personally. But it is hard to have a birthday seem to pass by without so much as a pause in the day-to-day routine.

I've really struggled raising the boys on my own without familial support on either side. My husband's family has not given the boys one single gift or anything since their Dad's death. Their indifference has been hard to deal with. It seems as though family thinks I'm just fine on my own but I'm not. Out of sight, out of mind. You know what the real gift could have been? A phone call other than on my birthday at any point over the past seven years where someone from my life simply called up and said, "Hey, I'm thinking of you - is there anything you need right now or something I could do?"