Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011

Isn't this bottle of bubbly cute? So appropriate for signifying the start of a new year. The past few days I have been reflecting on this year's end and the memories that stand out the greatest are so positive.

1. #1 highlight - I heard my son's original composition performed by a small orchestra at his high school graduation! How many moms get to have that as a memory? Pretty awesome!

2. Going to American Idol auditions with both sons for a mini vacation and with my oldest trying out as a contestant. Although he didn't make it past the first set of producer auditions it was fun to see how a reality show is really scripted and the time we spent together brought us closer together as a family.

3. My oldest had a great senior year of high school and I saw him perform on Chicago television, and at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield twice. Whoo hoo!

4. My youngest got accepted into the college of his choice and is having his own bang-up senior/final year.

5. My oldest made a smooth transition into college and did outstanding his first semester!

All the struggles and hardships of the past year happened and I felt them. But I feel the magic of my son's music more strongly than the painful memories. The pictures that float around in my mind are those of my tall, handsome young men at their dances or school events. Or at their jobs being polite, respectful and responsible employees. Does that mean good outshines the bad? Or that the positive has more power than the negative stuff?

As this year ends I will hold on to these memories in my heart. Funny how the difficult days I had to scramble through to come up with money for various bills have faded. At the time they seemed to overwhelm me. But I can see now that what is most important are those memories of family and love. And that even though there may have been a fair share of trying circumstances, what stands out at the end are good, happy, strong, vibrant and joyful memories. And I experienced a good share of them too!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Widow in Transition

I saw these holiday snowflakes hung up at Home Depot and want to learn how to make them. So cute! That will be my fun resolution for January 2012.

Survived the holidays 2011. A better Christmas for us than seasons past. The boys had gifts from me but in the future I'd like to be able to get them more. Our little homemade tree ended up bringing me a whole lot of happiness throughout the month. Although I wished I could have purchased some decorating items, when all is said and done, my homemade decorations stole the show.

We spent Christmas at my girlfriend's as we have since my husband's death and her divorce. She has broadened her guest list to include other divorced women. I cooked some side dishes and cherry quick bread. And enjoyed the opportunity to have more than one alcoholic drink since my sons can drive. Back to work on Monday and this made me reflect on how widowhood is a lot like the day after the holidays. I felt a bit tired and wanted to have some time to relax and reflect. Many people were off on Monday. But I was scheduled to work. Going into work Monday morning felt like widowhood - not being able to have a break and some time off - being forced to be back at it again and again. Anyway, that is sometimes how widowhood feels to me. This relentless going on and on without a chance to get off the merry-go-round and regain my balance.

I heard someone else recently describe widowhood as having the rug pulled out from under you with the rug representing how your life was. You're left standing or down on the ground without the foundation that used to be supporting you having to either get up or regain your footing and then continue waking/living.

My sons are more kind than I. They believe that most people who haven't experienced widowhood simply can't comprehend what it is like to have the rug pulled out from under you. They forgive the people who say stupid or unfeeling things. I, on the other hand, am less forgiving. But I have come to believe that unless you have lived this life, it isn't possible to fully explain to others what widowhood is really like.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to try and explain to the world what widowhood and only parenthood is like. But in my time of blogging, I'm not sure that it has been too successful a goal. I also have started to worry that my focusing on widowhood brings me more sorrow and pain than I'd be feeling if I weren't blogging on this topic. Face it, I'm a widow and my life will have issues in it related to that status. Dwelling endlessly on what I can't change brings me more misery than I want to be feeling right now. So I am looking forward to the new year where I will place less emphasis on me as widowed and more on being a widow in transition - moving on in my life, despite widowhood to devote more time and attention to myself and my own needs.

This has all been coming down since last spring and my oldest son's graduation from college. Did I already brag that he has a 3.7 GPA his first college semester? And in May my youngest will be graduating and gearing up to start his college career. Right now, I need to be focusing on moving and creating my new life because next August I will be a widow empty-nester. Talk about emotions flying around the upcoming months! But I am also very excited because moving will allow me to live in a more affordable community and to go back to school to update my defunct Master's degree. Hopefully, a year of study will be all that I need to launch myself back into the professional sphere of social services and that will be huge in my life - to feel useful and productive in the work force again.

So as I contemplate all of this I am debating the start of a totally new blog, though I will not delete this one. It would begin Jan. 1st. It is hard for me to say goodbye to things because one gets used to them, but I am now seeing the benefits of beginning new projects, of moving to new locations, or starting over with a clean slate and all that. But whether I post under a new blog or keep this one because it is simpler, in 2012 I resolve to be more positive and to identify less as a widow and more as a woman finally able to move into a new, exciting and hopeful future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Ninth Day of Christmas

My little tree is really turning out nicely. I waited until my oldest came home from college to decorate it as a family affair but he was totally uninterested and was even putting up ornaments upside down, ha ha. He did do very well with his grades though - his lowest grade was a Bt, with the rest As and an A-. My number nine ornament is a snow icicle - so quick and simple to crochet it is almost a crime. Anyway, went to Pier 1 with my youngest tonight to help him pick out a few stocking stuffers for his girlfriend. I looked with longing at some of the ornaments which were reasonably priced at $2.99. But I have to say there is something pretty cool at having a tree decorated completely with ornaments you've crafted yourself. The Pier 1 ornaments were sure darn cute but so are mine. And I think that even my sons feel some pride with our homespun tree.

Now that the tree is up and decorated for the most part I am glad I embarked on my knitted/crochet ornament project. It did help to keep me occupied and focused during this somewhat trying time of year and for that I am thankful. Having the tree up and looking so charming is instilling a bit of the holiday spirit and for it being the longest and darkest day of the year, that is something. And better late than never with just 4 days til the big day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Eighth Day of Christmas

Little mittens for the tree in lime and bright blue, favorite colors of mine.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peace, Joy and Hope

My girlfriend sent me a text mid-afternoon asking if I wanted to go to an evening Christmas service tonight. I wasn't feeling up to it - just kind of depressed and feeling holiday bluesy. But I know that when I do get out and about that I end up feeling better so I agree to go. I am so glad I did. The music and service were powerful and wondrous.

The pastor spoke about the fragility of life. Widows know all about that. So on one hand, we're heads up on cherishing life and our loved ones. On the other hand, we also get the hard reality of how our lives can be altered in an instant. And at least in my case, that has left me at times, scared and paranoid. I guess you could call our first hand knowledge of death a blessing and a curse.

But I was glad the pastor spoke of this. There seems to be so much frantic rushing around right now. People out in their cars talking on cell phones, speeding to get to a store and reviewing their shopping lists are not paying attention to what this season is really about.

I was really struck by the pastor's mention of love - how God is so loving... And he added that that's pretty much the message here - being loved (by God), and then spreading joy and love to others. I felt somewhat ashamed comparing myself to God tonight. And how as a human, I fall way short at times of being more loving. Widowhood has resulted in some bitterness in my spirit. And I think the day-to-day grind and financial struggles sometimes overpower my desire to be a better person.

But I felt revitalized and hopeful by the words I heard tonight. The pastor spoke about how at this time of year we start reviewing the old year and planning for the one ahead. I was inspired to focus on the promise of what lies ahead and to be more mindful of this season's message which is love. And this can be translated to whatever religion or beliefs one has - that at our core, love is the force that drives us. And as I have come to believe since my husband's death - the reason we are all here in the first place.

Love + Kindness + Acceptance +Tolerance + Understanding + Compassion + Forgiveness = Peace, Joy and Hope!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Seventh Day of Christmas

Partridges for my tree.

There is a story about these little birds. I wanted to whip up my ornament project quickly and preferred flat patterns to those that needed to be sewn and stuffed. And I really wanted birds on my tree. But couldn't find any patterns in my large stash of patterns and books. Nor any online.

Eventually I ended up going to Half-Price Books not really expecting to find anything. But there was a very artistic crochet book with patterns for children. And this one was an applique for the pockets on a girl's dress. So I got the book for $6.00 and adapted the pattern.

Which just goes to show that not everything can be found on the internet. Although I did find some patterns that could have worked out but they were for sale and I was hoping to find free patterns. But the book is very cute and I'm sure I will use it or be inspired by it in the future.

What is taking up most of my time with these ornaments is the making up and detail work at the end. The actual knitting or crocheting is very quick for me. That is the part I really love. Not all the finishing. I'm a little behind schedule with making 12 of 12 patterns. I waited til my son returned from college to put up our tree. We'll do that tomorrow and put on the ornaments I do have done - there are over 100. Then during the week I'll finish the last 24 ornaments and we can put them up then.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Humdrums

Let me start off first by saying that my oldest has done very well his first semester in college - receiving all As and Bs, which for him, as an average student in high school, is a great achievement. He needs a ride home for winter break and I arranged to take a day off from work to get him. This is because if I worked I wouldn't be able to leave to start the 4-hour drive there until about 3:30. It gets dark now around 4 p.m. and the prospect of so many hours on the road by myself in the dark among cornfields wasn't cutting it. Here is one of those times I wish my husband was around as my helpmate as he loved long-distance driving. And we'd probably make the trip together which would help with the tedium.

This trip we will also be driving home one of the guys on my son's dorm floor because both of his parents work and the kids have to be checked out by 6 p.m. Here is where my Scrooge-like feelings start coming out. I, the widowed, "poor" mom is taking work off and will be driving home a kid from a two-parent home, both with jobs. Why is this family not making arrangements to pick the kid up on Saturday morning or leaving after work, like I've done a number of times, and driving in the dark, like I did?

My son's roommate, who lives 30-minutes away had gotten rides home all semester. He has two parents at home. I would like my son to be the recipient of the generosity of another family for a change.

Then there is a woman I know who for the past 7 years has attended Christmas with my girlfriend and I. She is friends with my girlfriend and I have to sit through a huge ceremony of them opening up their gifts to each other. This woman is older and retired - she is extremely generous to my girlfriend giving her items that total a couple hundred dollars. All these years, I have given this woman a little token gift - homemade breads, goodies and knitted items. She always takes these items eagerly, especially the food. But last year, she re-gifted one of my knitted items back to my girlfriend! My girlfriend and I got a huge laugh about it over wine when we were on our own, but I have to admit that my feelings were slightly hurt. I am feeling so Scrooge-like this year that I don't want to give any cookies or goodies to this woman.

Now, if it were me as this older lady, I would be a little more kind and considerate. After 7 years of get-togethers, I would anticipate her being there and bring a little token gift. This year, I am going to excuse myself from the grand gift exchange between my friend and this lady. I really am not up to oohing and aahing. I've been a good sport about it for years so I'll join the kids in another room and spare myself more feelings of resentment or bitterness.

I'm tired of giving and giving and not getting anything back. They say it is better to give than to receive but like all the other platitudes I've heard in the past years, I find this is not entirely true. Sure, it is wonderful to give, but it is also fun to receive. And it sure isn't fun when you're not receiving anything.

I think I've hit my own personal wall in regard to widowhood. I, personally, cannot take it anymore. I need/want to be part of a team again sharing the driving and exchanging gifts rather than only giving them out. Eight years of this and I am tapped out.

"They" are also fond of saying that only we ourselves control our destiny and our happiness. Yes, there is truth to that. But there is also truth that in marriage both members of the couple do focus on their partner at times. I know when I was married that I made efforts to please my husband and to bring him pleasure. He did the same for me and it was lovely to experience the give and take a relationship brings. There isn't too much give or take in my life as a widow and I'm sick of it. I'm through with widowhood and ready to hang this life up. That is my focus for next year - to leave this widowhood life behind - to start sharing it with a partner and leave this lifestyle in the dust, where it can join Scrooge.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Feeling a bit down today, in contrast to this smiling snowman fella. It gets dark so early and most days are overcast. I dread the cold and upcoming snow, although am grateful none has really fallen yet and that it will be a warm week with rain even. This is a tough time of year for some of us. It takes tremendous emotional energy to get through certain time periods like the holidays. It is hard to describe to the non-widowed. Moving alone through the holidays can bring on a whole new set of feelings of loss and vulnerability.

I think for me, the key will be going back to school and becoming involved in establishing myself in a new career. Part of my angst I find comes from feeling so out of it in regard to career and not having anything to ground me and keep me focused. I so wish I was already back to school. Gosh, another holiday season to get through again. How I long for the day when it isn't like this. When I'm feeling productive and eager to start the day instead of down and out, willing the days to be over.

For now, it is just marking the long, dark, cold days...

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Fifth Day of Christmas

I made 12 of these bells last night and it was fun but got a bit tiring. Next year I think I should plan a project like this earlier, e.g., making one ornament a week, not trying to make a bunch in December. But I'm afraid I know how that goes. Good plans and intentions don't seem to be high priority when they are 12 months away.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh oh

Was going to post my picture of today's knit/crochet project but can't get computer/blogger to cooperate. This causes a bit alarm. What will I do next year when I'm really all alone and the computer acts up? My youngest has already predicted that I will be calling him at his dorm asking him how to turn on the computer. Now he was just being sarcastic with that but things will come up and I have to be prepared to have a list of people to call/contact if I need help. Just another item to put on the widowed to do list, as if there isn't an overload of projects on it already.

I'll try reposting tomorrow. I've gotten used to having a photo with every post. I should add that my 12 days of Christmas ornaments project is working! It is allowing me to concentrate and focus on a task that is taking my mind off negative thoughts during this holiday season. I will start up a new craft project/goal at the new year with the same idea in mind. So that is good.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The First Day of Christmas

In an effort to "delight" in the joy of this holiday season, I am challenging myself to create 12 crocheted or knitted tree ornaments for each of the first 12 days of December from my yarn stash. So today, I have 12 crocheted stars as a start. I've already been working on this so have gotten a head start. Anyway, it is my hope that this handiwork will keep my mind and hands occupied. It is our fourth Christmas of living under reduced circumstances and boy am I tired of it. There is no extra money left for discretionary spending and come the holidays it is another burden for an only mom's heart to bear. Next year will be better when I've moved to more affordable housing but next year is still next year and there is still this year to get through.

I'll do my best to put up a tree and have a few gifts for the boys. Somehow we'll manage. But I have to say that I'm not into the holidays this year. The decorations and lights aren't doing much to lift my spirits. I drove through our pretty, quaint, historical downtown last night and noticed that the city reduced the number of lampposts and trees they decorated. Yet I also noticed some houses had two trees inside them. I think back to my years before widowhood when I was gun ho into the holidays. One year I had four trees in my home - one in the family room, the living room, the master bedroom and a small one in the kitchen! Our house had a big picture window in the front and when I put a tree in the master bedroom window, which was over the picture window, it looked like one giant tree.

There have to be people out there who are celebrating very simply this year. But I don't hear of anyone or know anyone. I wish there were more stories or articles out there with advice on coping with the holidays under reduced circumstances. I heard that the average American will be spending about $700.00 on gifts this year. Wow! Maybe someone can interview me, the mom spending $70.00!

As tough as it is, getting through this one last difficult Christmas, I don't want to be all gloomy and doomy about it, It is what it is. Just like my widowhood situation. I'm a widow. Money is tight. Life is challenging. There are times that I don't think I can take it anymore. But all in all, December lasts just one month. And the first day of the month is already over. Only 30 more to go!

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Time

"It's Your Time" the J. Jill catalog stated and the words resonated with me. I am on the eve of a transition from widowed-only-parent-mom to that of an empty-nester-widowed-only-parent-mom. Next year both of my boys will be at college and I'll really be alone in the home except for breaks and summers. At Thanksgiving, someone asked me how I was gearing up for this - it was nice that someone did so, because most people don't consider how this event will impact a widowed mom who hasn't remarried and isn't living with anyone else. And one who has devoted pretty much her entire focus around the boys and their high school educations.

I think with transitions that there is a multitude of feelings churning around. I am happy for the additional time I will be able devote to myself and my own interests (finally) but also scared of the the unknown. A transition period is one that is still being worked and figured out. The time both boys will be gone is still a bit off into the future so I'm still in the "planning" period. As such, there are still plenty of loose ends to plan and prepare for.

My youngest son received his fourth college acceptance so we're now 4 for 5. He doesn't care whether he gets into the fifth college or not, but it would be nice to put another acceptance on the fridge! I took my oldest back to his college on Sunday. I did feel burdened and tired by the responsibility of the long trip - eight hours of driving and in the dark which I don't relish. In the dorm parking lot I was overcome with love and pride watching a father parked next to us hug his son goodbye. Yes, I was alone and tired and still had the trip to make back on my own but there was something "higher" and "bigger" involved in the experience than my own feelings.

Before I left (after a cheap meal at Ponderosa with coupons), I asked my son to give me a demonstration of his piano playing abilities since he just started lessons in August (a requirement as a music major). He took me to the dorm's piano practice room and apologized that he couldn't play on one of the grand pianos in the music building. Then he played two pieces he had composed - one, was a cute little concerto but the second was a melody so profound and moving I sat at the little table behind my son and just wept! I asked him to play it again and then wept some more!

I asked my son to play the piece for his professor but he shrugged his shoulders and said she doesn't have time and pretty much discounted how good I found it. The music was a gift before I left for the long drive home. Somehow I felt there was a message in that melody for me. Despite the hardships of being a poor widow raising these boys on my own, they've both made it to college. One is an outstanding and talented musician and the other a creative graphic designer starting college as an integrated marketing/communications major. They've turned out ok despite everything. And now I've got to believe and hold on hope that this next step will turn out ok too. Gosh, anything will be better financially than it is currently!

I have found transitions tough to face on my own. It WAS easier when I was married handling those blips and bumps in the road. My husband and I discussed life issues and provided one another with emotional support. All of that is lost with widowhood. So this empty-nest transition is different for someone like me vs. a married woman. How I wished I had a driving partner by my side for the four plus hours on the road back. But like that music my son composed and played for me, I have to acknowledge my own feelings but also recognize that there is a greater force that exists beyond my own being. And that, has been very hard to realize for me as a widow. I have found that widowhood has made me focus very much inward and stay there maybe too long. Just another quirk of the widowed life...

This next step will involve becoming less focused inward, and moving toward more outside involvement!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Thursday

This year some stores will be open on Thanksgiving. What in the world needs to be purchased at Michael's craft store that couldn't wait until Black Friday? Really, someone is going to leave their family and the holiday celebration to go out to a Michael's? And what about the employees who have to work that shift?

I see the madness of consumerism and get depressed. It is hard to be an observer when you can't be a participant. I watch the t.v. commercials and everyone in them is smiling and happy. Now I know that they are actors in commercials but a part of me starts feeling bad because I don't look like these happy moms in the commercials gearing up to hit the Target 2-day sale.

Now what would really inspire me and actually make me happy would be a realistic portrayal of a real single/only mom worried about getting her kids a few Christmas gifts and how to pay the electric bill at the same time. It would portray a normal looking woman hunched over a kitchen table flipping through her pile of bills and looking forlornly at her checkbook...

Oh, and can there please be a ban on those Lexus commercials where people actually get a $50,000 vehicle for their Christmas gift! I know I should just laugh at the ridiculousness of these ads but they still make me sad...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Defined by Widowhood

Tomorrow I will pick up my oldest from college for Thanksgiving break. He is scheduled to work the entire week starting Sat. a.m. and will only have Thanksgiving Day off. He has done very well away at school so far. And he calls or texts me before every test he takes, then follows up with his grade. He has also sought my advice about classes to take next term, and dropping the business frat he joined. I'm not sure he and I would be as close as we are if his father was still alive. I do believe my sons and I share a very close familial relationship based on the fact that the boys were so young when their dad became sick.

My youngest son has just been accepted into his #1 college choice, the one I attended for my undergraduate years. So he received three acceptances out of five applications submitted but at this point the other two don't matter. I am so happy and pleased for him. Excited too! A bit sad that his dad isn't here to share in the news. I had to tell someone, and texted my sister and brother, since their kids are actively involved in the college search right now. But sharing with them just wasn't the same.

Our lives have been defined by widowhood. Even years after, I feel a pang at what has been lost. My sons and I have different relationships than what might have been if they'd had a dad to confide in. To say we have not been defined or influenced by my husband's death would not be true. We became different people, all of us because of our lives changing when my husband died.

Sometimes I have come across widows strongly exclaiming that they would not be defined by their widowhood. I think they mean that they don't want to be held down by widowhood, that they want to rise above it. But I don't think it is accurate to say that they aren't defined by widowhood. Because we end up being defined by all our experiences, and widowhood has a major impact, no doubt about that.

Tonight a blogger from the UK who first inspired me to start blogging posted an update after a year's absence. She said that she is considering starting a new blog because her one on widowhood doesn't seem to represent her life right now. I, too, have been contemplating the same thing. I'd like to keep blogging because I enjoy it and it allows me to gain perspective and clarity. But I don't feel the need to focus so much on widowhood anymore. I'd much rather be focusing on my new and future life, and where I'm headed. Here I have one son successfully having started college and another on the verge of starting his own college career. And I will be moving soon and hopefully starting a new degree/career in social work. I am a widow in transition. I am still a widow. But I really want to place more emphasis on what I'm becoming besides being a widow. And maybe that is what those other widows meant when they determined that they didn't want to be defined by widowhood.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sick of Strength

I've heard variations of the "Strength" platitude over and over - "You've got to stay strong," or "You're so strong." These are always from individuals who have someone to lean on. Easy to say this stuff when you can crash every once in awhile and let someone else carry the load.

I'm not strong. Just because I've handled a lot of hardship doesn't make me stronger than others. I've just had to deal with a larger share of problems. Believe me, if I could, I would not be handling all this. I do it because I have to and I do it alone because I don't have a choice.

There is this stupid belief out there that strength builds character and we become better for having survived hardship. I don't believe this anymore. In fact, I don't believe any of those platitudes we've been raised on anymore. As time goes on, or at least now, I find the constant strength in having to rise to every occasion solo, is just draining me and leaving me more bitter. Forget about becoming wiser and stronger. Here is a quote by the businessman J.C. Penney that illustrates this:

"I am grateful for all of my problems.
After each one was overcome,
I became stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come.
I grew in all my difficulties."

Well, I've reached the point where I'm not feeling very grateful for my problems. And I've reached the point where I don't want to meet anymore. I don't like this life and I don't want to be living it as it is panning out anymore. I read all these inspirational quotes where I should greet each day, even the hard ones, with joy in my heart and gratefulness for being here and all of that. But if I were to say that I thought that, I'd be lying.

Feeling very, very weary and drained. Got through the debacle with the van being towed and its flat tire and all only to face a week later, another flat tire. Then some tickets for failure to not have a city vehicle sticker (which I didn't know we needed). And so it goes... More to face and handle. More energy that gets chipped away from my heart and soul.

My son received acceptances into two of the five colleges he applied at. Receiving those letters with the "Congratulations on your acceptance..." took a little bit of the sting away from the bad news that happened.

I'm tired of being strong. It is okay to be weak. In a marriage or partnership or close family there are opportunities to sometimes let others carry the load. I think I've reached my limit. I feel my back finally breaking.

I'll get up tomorrow and do the stuff of living I have to do. But it is like going through the motions. It is easy to be positive and motivated when things are going well. Seems impossible now to feel joy when there is so much discouragement and my spirit is sagging. My strength is tapped out.

As I write these feelings out, I realize that along with the stupid platitudes, there comes the guilt for not being able to be strong. Because when people tell you to keep on being strong, it is expected that you'll keep your chin up and do just that. Where are the platitudes for failing gracefully or not being able to keep up? Platitudes aren't realistic. What is real, is the realization that people will sometimes fail and fall. I want a platitude that gives me permission to feel the honest feelings I'm having about discouragement, exhaustion, bitterness and weakness. I need a platitude that gives me some direction on what to do when too much strength has actually ended up making me weak.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Here is a sad photo I snapped waiting in line at the WalMart pharmacy. The senior man in front of me had a Banquet meal and mini frozen pie in his cart. It struck me as very sad seeing that. The other night while watching t.v. with my youngest, I was struck by the reality that next year at this time, both boys will be off at college and I'll really be on my own. It was sobering. I need to get on the horse and start making plans for my future. As everyone always seems to say, it'll be here before I know it. I don't want to not be ready and prepared when my future reality does finally hit.

I heard on the news program that I watch that there will be a permanent group of unemployed individuals who don't go back to work. The reasons for long-term unemployment were discussed. They included the fact that while people are out of work, they lose various skills and get behind with business and technology trends. Also, the longer they are out, they lose business and professional contacts.

I likened these points to widowhood. How long-term widowhood can result in making us rusty around others, how our social contacts become diminished. I am finding it harder to interact socially these days - I have no idea how I'd react on a date, though I suppose it is like getting on a bike, and once you start practicing, you improve. But also, how limited my social sphere has become. I'm applying for grad school right now and struggling as to who to ask to write a reference letter for me. I've been out of touch with some old friends the past year or two. It makes me grateful for the social contact I do have with others while at my restaurant job. Yes, it isn't "professional" but it beats nothing. I also realize why it is important to have connections through church or other clubs or activities. I have chosen to not volunteer anywhere because it would have been hard the past year getting one son off to college and the other out of high school on my own. But having another professional contact for my grad school application would have been good.

It really, really is time for me to pull myself out of the current reality of my life. I can feel it and I can taste it but I'm not quite there yet. My youngest still has to finish senior year and we have to remain here during that time. Until then, I'll start with the grad school application process, which is a bit daunting. But focusing on the process will me keep centered on the future and not so much the past.

I guess when I see images of being alone, like this elderly man's t.v. dinners, I am struck by the hard reality of what it is really like to live alone. To be on one's own raising children and being worn, tired and drained from the process. To create a fuller future life takes tremendous resolve and stamina. We can't just snap our fingers and make it all better. It is another job and I'm already pretty tired. But I don't want to be pushing a cart with only single serving frozen meals in the future. I want to be dining out with co-workers and happily cooking for family and friends. As they sometimes say to women looking for someone to date - "a guy isn't going to fall out of the sky." And likewise, a new, improved, more passionate and rewarding life isn't going to materialize at this point. I have to start moving toward creating it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Half Price Holidays

On November 1st I noticed my first decorated Christmas tree in the lobby of a business I was passing by while driving. Then yesterday, I saw another in the lobby of a local business I was in. Of course the stores have their Christmas sections up already like Walmart. So you can now buy 50% off Halloween items along with a Christmas tree at the same time!

Last night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he asked quest Martha Stewart if she thinks it is too early for Christmas decorations to be up and she strongly agreed. She added that we need to give due focus to Thanksgiving.

I heartily agree with Martha. And seeing all these Halloween items at half price makes me consider celebrating future holidays a day or two after the specific date. It makes no sense to me to pay for the same things that just a day later will cost 50% less. This idea sounds like a fun way to get through the holidays and maybe instead of rushing through them, they might take on more meaning because they'll last longer and no one else is putting time restrictions on them.

I know that I am always down when a holiday ends. What fun it would be to continue celebrating Halloween another two weeks. I do know that in the future I'll be hard pressed to purchase any holiday themed items at full price knowing that their real value ends up being half. And I'm going to plan that any future Valentine's Day gift exchanges take place in my life on February 15.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everyone Has Their Problems

All gourds are not the same even if they are all gourds - just like "problems."

I've been wanting to write about the subject of this post for awhile now. How so often during my widowhood I've heard the comment that "Everyone has their problems." It is one of those platitudes I have grown to hate. And another platitude I have come to disbelieve. First of all, why are platitudes tossed around so freely, especially at the newly widowed? Over and over I heard that one about time healing all things. Yet the people telling me these words had never been widowed so how would they know? Actually, I have come to think that the platitudes exist because people are uncomfortable dealing with us and our loss. Platitudes are handy lines in people's back pockets when they struggle to come up with something to say. They sound encouraging and helpful. But I have found them to be empty and meaningless for the most part.

I find the "Everyone has their own problems" response actually very dismissive to us. It is a put down that glosses over the issues and pain we may be dealing with. It implies that we are wrong to focus on ourselves and our own immediate problems. It has always made me feel guilty and upset with myself whenever someone has said it to me. I end up feeling like I'm not strong enough to handle my own conflicts and that I shouldn't tell anyone about my real emotions. Which of course is all bunk. Because the number one healthy thing a person grieving can do is to relate their feelings to others or through blogging, journaling, grief groups or individual therapy. And what the grieving really need more than anything is acknowledgment of where they are and what they are feeling and dealing with. People giving platitudes aren't listening or responding to what we're saying. Too bad that when people tell us a platitude they really think they're giving good advice. They can rest easy that they have done their part without too much discomfort, effort, or thought on their part.

But now on to the actual meaning behind "Everyone had their problems." Of course, everyone does. Widows had problems before they were widowed. We got into fights with our spouses, money was tight, kids acted up, there were conflicts with co-workers. Yes, we know all this and we've been there. However, comparing widowhood to a "problem" doesn't cut it in my book. How can you compare the totality of the widowhood experience and life with someone stressed out by their kitchen remodeling job? Or with the tension that comes from someone deciding to go back to school or start a new job. Yes, caring for aging parents is a drain. I've been there with both of mine as a widow no less, so there wasn't a hubby to share household or child rearing responsibilities with as I also took on those with my parents.

Widowhood involves loss after loss - loss of identity, loss of a life partner, loss of a best friend, loss of a co-parent, loss of a social network, loss of a financial position, loss of status, loss of a helpmate, loss of a sexual partner, and even more. Other "problems" that widowhood is lumped with don't involve losses, e.g., going back to school is an overall gain. My experience has proven that losses are harder to bounce back from because not only is there the grief to deal with, then there is the job of having to rise back up from the loss. Something is taken away leaving one with less than they had before. Therefore they aren't as whole as they once were. And that takes on another whole aspect of having to readjust to a very new discombobulated life.

Well, that is my two cents on this matter. Widowhood is a very complex, intense situation with multiple layers, stages and dimensions. It is a totally unique experience for each person faced with its reality. It is far more complicated a "problem" as compared to other problems although the statement "everyone has their problems" implies an equal rating for the life transitions faced by people. Going back to school, having a toddler, getting the kitchen remodeled, feeling the strain of starting a new job are all time relative transitions. But widowhood isn't over in the two years it usually takes to get a master's degree, as I can attest. Many of us are dealing with issues years past the death of our spouses that are offshoots of this initial loss.

I know people who say these platitudes really can't have a comprehension of the total widowhood experience. Because if they did, they'd never spout them off in the first place.It would be nice though to encounter more people in our lives who take the time to put some thought into what they say. But I guess that would involve really contemplating the lives widows face and live. Not what people want to think about or imagine. But I hope that people's understanding will increase in the future.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Hello

From Halloween Man - the one holiday decoration I was up to whipping up, now on my door greeting ghouls and goblins.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Time Doesn't Heal All Things

In recent years there has been a greater acknowledgment of the myth of getting over one's grief. This seems due to the flurry of blogs and memoirs about grief. There also seem to be more fiction books tackling the subject as well.

I wish I'd known this when I first became widowed. At that time I was subjected to the platitude
of time healing all things. I really believed this too. Now I would have the guts to challenge the non-widowed person spouting this off to me with a reply of "How do you know this? What is your personal experience of this?" But back then I took it on with hope and naivety.

Since I actually believed this reasoning, I tried to rush my first year of widowhood vainly thinking that once all those first anniversaries had passed, so would my grief. What I found, however, was that for me the second year was worse because I realized with so much more intensity what I had really lost - that first year kind of passed by in a blurry, hazy fog. So it would have been far better for me if someone had given me the more sound advice of how grief doesn't just magically disappear but that the day-to-day intensity of it does eventually lessen.

I wanted to share this passage from Belva Plain's novel "Crossroads," published in 2008. I think it is a good example of how our perception of grief is becoming more realistic and healthy. Wish I had had the wise wisdom of Belva's words instead of the unrealistic platitudes. In the book, the main character has suffered a miscarriage.

"Gwen had learned that those who said time heals everything were wrong. There are certain hurts that never go away, like the one she'd sustained when she learned that Cassie had been lying to her about her birth parents. That ache was permanent...

But the loss of a baby was different. That pain would never go away, either...but you finally did figure out how to absorb it. It became a part of what you were and it changed who you were. At first you were convinced that you'd never be happy again, that the gray fog that enveloped you would always be there, then one morning you woke up and it was autumn, and the trees in the little park at the end of your street were spreading the seasonal gold and orange carpet on the ground. And you noticed in a deeper and more satisfying way the beauty of the fresh flowers your husband now brought home every knew that you'd turned a corner. The sorrow for your dream of a child was in your heart, in the very blood that pumped through it, but somehow that released you to get on with your life."

Beautiful and real words.

Yet Another Hurdle

Sometimes the world just seems to explode. Yesterday, I got home from picking up some cat food during the afternoon and noticed that they towed our van from the complex parking lot. We had not been driving it since my oldest is at college and my youngest is now driving the newer sporty sedan I got them in the spring. I am still driving my ancient sedan because the gas mileage is so good. I should mention that a rear flat tire appeared mid-month but I didn't have the funds to have it fixed.

Anyway, I became somewhat hysterical - tearful, and very, very despondent. Didn't even make it through the end of the month before another conflict had to rear its ugly head. It's $172.50 to pay for the tow, plus $40.00 a day thereafter. I don't get our pension check until the 1st or my paycheck from the restaurant until then either so there will be a couple days tacked on. Then I'll have to figure out how to get someone to change the tire. As if the poor aren't suffering enough. Lets sock it to them some more.

I had really hoped that the coming month wouldn't involve scrambling to meet my bills. I called my sister as a last resort because I was feeling so low. She said she would talk to her husband and get back to me with their advice, which turned out to be to let the car go - forget it - let them take it to a junk yard at the end of the month. Turns out that was Sam's advice too. I always wonder at the ease in which people can give away other's possessions. I don't want to let the van go. We'll need it when my oldest is home from college. I have to look ahead to the future somewhat. I'm not in a position to just go out and buy new vehicles.

No one said, "Tough luck" or "Bad break." Sam told me he didn't know what to say to me so therefore he wouldn't say anything. Really? "I'm sorry for you" is too hard to eek out? I found myself getting angry at my entire family - that has been an emotion that has subsided over the past year but reared its ugly head again. My stay-at-home brother in law to his two high school kids couldn't offer to perhaps change the tire for me?

I've asked for very little of my family during widowhood. No one ever offered to help review my finances (out of CPAs and an attorney), assist with home maintenance, or provide childcare when the boys were little. Hell, no one in my family ever brought over a meal in the early days. If I spoke about the pain of my loss I was looked at as though something was wrong with me. It is hard enough just being a widow and only parent of grade school kids. To be poor on top of it and then have such little family support seems almost a crime. Not that anyone should ever be widowed but it sure makes one wonder about the great unfairness of life and all of that.

It will be necessary for me to take out a payday loan or not pay a bill this month in order to try and save the van. If I can't swing it, I will not have a choice but to let it go. But not without some kind of fight.

I am left with the realization of how alone I really am and how slight my support system really is. Widows need to feel connected with supportive voices and bodies. Even more for widowed parents. We are left to keep fragmented families together and to constantly keep our children uplifted on our own. It makes sense that it is necessary for us to be lifted up and supported at least some of the time. How can we keep it all together and raise children on our own without some sort of support system cheering us on and offering us strength and compassion?

To have this so lacking in my own life points to the cruel reality of life as it sometimes turns out. I am now hit with the hard realization that in order to have more support, love and compassion in my life I'll have to be willing to venture out of my cocoon and seek it. Fact is, being poor and struggling doesn't lend itself to the much needed positive self-esteem necessary for socializing and all of that.

I started blogging in part because I was aware that I'd have to broaden my horizons in order to obtain some understanding and support. But I think people in general are self-centered and don't like focusing on the problems of others. I believe it is very difficult for those who haven't been widowed to have any comprehension of widowhood, nor the reality of raising children as an only parent, left to pick up often shambled, broken pieces of life. My sister's comment yesterday illustrated this point. She said everyone has things that come up every month. But some people are in better situations to meet those challenges than others is my addition.

On this note, I feel as though maybe it is time for me to shift my focus. Towards creating and building a new life for myself rather than focusing on surviving this middle-aged widowhood. Something to ponder at least.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Books Have Answered

My last post was about the conflict I feel between trying to live in and focus on the present. In early widowhood, I suppose I focused too much on the past and what I lost. These days, mostly because of financial pressures, I seem to be more focused on the future. Every month is a struggle with juggling the bills and there is nothing left for security or even a fast food meal out. If I get a flat tire or need a car repair I'll be out of luck because there isn't anything there for emergencies. I am so depleted living this way. Yet hope is on the horizon. If I can just hang in there by early spring I can make the plans to move from this area. Currently, I pay more than half of my monthly income on rent and utilities. Moving to a lower-cost part of the state will help my life enormously.

So, I look toward the future, when I can breathe a little easier every month and my mind isn't consumed on how to pay all my bills without overdrawing my bank account. What I most hope for, is the ability to help my boys with their college expenses and to live simply within my means. I'm like most people out there I think. I enjoy nice things and would like a few luxuries in my life along with a cart of fresh groceries and being able to afford new clothes for my sons. I do look forward to ending these days of Goodwill clothing, lack of Christmas/Birthday gifts, and a $50.00 weekly food budget.

How can one embrace a life when one is struggling or hurting or in pain? I know there are many out there counting pennies and worried about affording next week's groceries or utility bill. I'm not the only one. I realize that. But I am struggling with how to live fully and with passion when it all just sucks right now. All the platitudes that tell us to live for the now. But how can you do that when the now is difficult? I need help, ideas, a plan of action or cheat sheet. Don't just tell me to do something without telling me how to accomplish it.

The other night, after blogging I did my daily reading before bedtime. I needed a new book and chose one from my collection of yard sale/used book sale pile, the "Last Chance Saloon" by Marian Keyes. Many times when I am searching for guidance or an answer, I'll find a response in a book. It was funny and I laughed when I read the the beginning saying which is as follows:

"For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision:
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day."

Sanskrit Proverb

I am reminded of those who advise the dieting to not focus on the future when the weight is lost because people assume weight loss will lead to instant happiness. Acceptance and living each day fully is recommended. And I've read about embracing our circumstances for whatever they may be, e.g., even during tough times to not shy or hide from them.

I don't know, after this post I'm still not clear about all this. I don't think it is easy for humans to embrace hardship without fortitude and resolve. Maybe embracing it with open arms and acceptance might not always be possible. Maybe just getting through it in one piece is enough. There is also the factor of widowhood and being alone/handling all this crap solo that plays a part too. It is a part of the mix - having someone to lean on physically and emotionally might not make a stew appear magically on the stove, but might boost morale and provide the strength to get through another day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Final Push

My youngest asked me why I hadn't decorated for Halloween, which I haven't - prior widowhood, I was Mrs. Holiday Decorator with a capital "D." I told him that honestly I just don't feel up to it this year. We are in the final year of our apt. lease here and this time next year will have moved. I haven't ever considered this place home - it has always been viewed as a temporary stop on the road and now, all I want is to be away.

The thought of lugging out decorations from the storage shed absolutely overwhelms me. Then setting them up and having to put them away again. I try and put a homemade wreath on the door every month and that is the extent of my holiday spirit, whichever holiday we're celebrating.

I've started to worry about Christmas because I'll do a little something for the boys. But it will be very little and a homespun, homemade celebration.

I've been contemplating my feelings about being so anxious to move and leave this community. It is way past time to do so. In just four months I plan to start looking for a new home! That's it - only four months! On one hand those months seem like a blink of an eye. On the other, they seem endless, especially since they involve the two coldest months of the year to get through.

I know what they say about living fully in the present and not dwelling on the past or future. But I can't seem to stop myself from looking on on a daily basis and focusing on the spring.

Part of me is totally sick of this life as it exists here and has for the past few years. I've reached my limit on holding it all together. I feel upset with myself for being weak in the sense that I'm not able to balance my life right now. By that I mean, appreciate and concentrate on the here and now. If anyone has any suggestions, hints or ideas feel free to add a comment.

I can remember those first few years of widowhood, when looking to the future was torment. I just wish widowhood didn't bring with it such imbalance. It would be nice to have a more even keel life where past, present and future can be neatly arranged and lived. But maybe all that flew out the window when I became widowed. I don't know, just musings...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Happens to the Widows?

I was thinking today of the widows who used to blog but have not done so in numerous months. It makes me wonder what happened to them and how they are doing. One was a woman my age, widowed for about the same amount of time with her son off to college. Did she start a business or go back to school? Have others become more used to their situations or met someone and become so busy they don't have the interest or need to blog anymore?

Would I even continue blogging if I was going out or had a fuller career right now? I'm not sure I would. Some of my blogging comes from the amount of free time I have when I'm home alone. I hope that all changes when I go back to school and have to write papers and study.

I am moving into a new era of my life, thankfully. But I'm not there yet. A few more months to go... Until that time I will blog about widowhood as I see and experience it. And I hope to find out what happened to the other widows because it is important to hear their voices and gain from their growth, experience and perspectives.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A New Path

My youngest has completed and sent off his college applications (5) and the computer is finally free for my use. Now is the waiting game to see where he gets accepted. And now it is my turn for that process. I played around last night looking for schools offering social work programs. Nothing with the right fit - and I was a bit worried today thinking about it. There weren't a lot of schools offering the program at the graduate level. A benefit of living in the Chicago suburbs is that there are numerous schools in and around Chicago to attend.

A plus of looking at school possibilities was that today I was less consumed with worry about finances. It felt good to be thinking of something else regarding my future and hope for my new life.

This afternoon after work, I was at it again determined to make some headway in trying to find potential schools. And I found a program that starts this summer and looks as if I would be easily accepted into. I called the university at 5:15 and someone actually answered the phone taking my number for a call back on Monday with more info. But it is exciting to be actively focused and involved in trying to move forward for a better life. The program is an evening program, which has some attraction to me. I also like that it starts in the summer and I wouldn't have to wait until next fall.

Mid-life brings change. Empty-nesters go back to school or pursue new interests. I have heard of another mom going to school for social work now that her kids are all in college. I think it is different though and harder for widows. The mom I know of has a husband, she hasn't had to face financial trials or move from her home. Widows bear the brunt of having to recreate themselves totally on their own without the support of spouses. And that can be a trial.

I want to be and feel vital, vibrant and productive again. I know to achieve that I will need to keep traveling down this new path. And I do wish it were easier. I wish I had a supportive husband behind me. I wish I weren't even having to make these life choices and changes. If my husband hadn't died, I doubt I would be contemplating going back to school or moving. Widowhood forces one to take a path unplanned and unwanted. But there is no other choice.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hope Wherever I Can Find It

It was a very emotional Dancing With The Stars week. Each contestant devoted their dance to a meaningful year in their life. Ricki Lake related that she had lost her home to a fire and had reached a point in her life where she felt she would never remarry again. But she said, "Never say never." Because it was during this period of hardship that she did find love again! She told the audience that she was sharing this to give others hope, so they will not give up. All in all, it was a very touching segment and I felt stronger and inspired by Ricki's story.

Had to go to the dreaded local Walmart to pickup a prescription for my son. As usual, the line in the pharmacy is a 45-minute wait. I picked up an all you magazine at the counter and had finished it by the time I finally got my turn. I decided to purchase it because of a couple good recipes in the issue that I'd like to try. And there were some cute Fall crafts. Most importantly, there was a story about a divorced mom of three, around my age, who ended up moving to a small town and downsizing to a 1,300 square foot home - exactly the house size I am aiming for! I liked what what the woman had to say about downsizing and frugal living and again reading the story inspired me and gave me strength.

I will get through the next school year while my son finishes his senior high school year. I will move to a small town community and will be living there next year at this time! I will go back to school to get back into a social services career. And love will be a part of my future!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Long-term Widowhood

This is a wreath I made my girlfriend some years back. It was on her door when I went by last Saturday night. We have a standing ritual that after every "school-parent-activity," such as taking Homecoming Dance photos, we either go out for wine or stay in with snacks and wine.

September is gone. Wow! Fast and furious. I was out of the loop most of the month - under the weather with this terrible chest cold thing. It wasn't until this weekend that I'm feeling more myself. And the cough is still lingering... Then there were still those problems posting my posts, so I kind of gave up blogging and took the month off in a way. Still went to work, tended to my son at home and so on. But was pretty lackluster and unmotivated. No walks in my little forest preserve, no knitting. Only wanting to rest, I would just lie on the bed and think.

This past month I've done a lot of thinking and reflecting. I've come to the conclusion that I'm very, very worn down, physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. I would say some it is long-term widowhood and solo parenting. I'm just bushed and tired of this life.

When I was at the photo shoot for Homecoming and in the middle of all the married couples and intact families last week, a part of me called out that I don't want this solo life any longer. Yet coming off my recent bout of illness, I truly lack the motivation or seem to have the energy to move toward a new tomorrow.

I obviously have to start making strides toward getting a new job and advancing my career options. I am not going to die with a defunct Master's Degree working as a crummy chain restaurant hostess. Lying in bed, I concluded that what is actually worse for my self-esteem is not that I'm not married, but that I am not working as a professional. That fact eats at me every day.

I took the Soaring Spirits sponsored survey on widowhood over the summer. I thought it was important for there to be a view from a longer-term widow, which is how I would describe myself 8 years out. One of the questions was something like, "What would you most like the public to know about widowhood?" I can't remember the choices except that mine was that widowhood is extremely difficult. It is not some romp through life. Eight years out having parented two sons going on 10 years, and I am truly wiped out. I've blogged about this before - the fatigue and exhaustion of widowhood. Because it is not only physical but also such a mental drain. Doing everything on one's own, always making the decisions, figuring out the problems, sleeping alone, trying to recover from being under the weather without someone soothing you with a cup of hot tea or warm bowl of soup. Getting it yourself just isn't the same kind of TLC.

My energy levels are just kaput, but I think that I need to start moving in the direction or creating a new life for myself, even if I'm only taking baby steps. I think I need to get back into the mental health field and am contemplating social work and in particular working in a hospital or nursing home setting. Yesterday, I forced myself to take a walk in my little hidden forest - 30 minutes. I'm focusing on eating healthy this month and not stressing out too much.

In summary and conclusion, long-term widowhood for me has been very draining. But then the reality of the matter is that even when you're so depleted and on the ground, you've got to muster up that strength and energy to pull yourself back up again. And I think that for some of us, that is the true nature of widowhood. Falling and always having to pick oneself back up. No wonder I am so drained and depleted. My battery seems to have really worn out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Need to Heal

I have been ill since my son's high school orientation night, when I could feel myself coming down with it. Symptoms: cough, sinus stuff, lost voice and blocked breathing passages. I'm not sure what you would call this - sinus infection, flu, cold? Not good symptoms to be experiencing with that extrtemely scary movie "Contagion" recently coming out.
Today, I feel the symptoms starting to lift but still feel weak and not myself. Yesterday I went to JC Penney with my son who asked me to go with him to pick out some clothes. With his work earnings he purchased a vest, shirt and dress slacks to wear for his Senior photo. He had researched clothing costs and sales online and deemed Penney's the place to shop. That in and of iitself makes me so proud but also almost wanting to weep (because of the necessity to count every penny...). Anyway, while at the store I couldn't stand but there weren't any chairs to sit down on. Nor might I add, any sales people around to answer questions or help...
Being down and out 12 days has put some perspective on things. I am more aware of the vulnerablilty connected to our health. And how it is more difficult to live on one's own. Being the sole adult in a household and sick is tough no doubt about it.
I spent some early nights in bed unable to sleep because of the congestion and coughing and just wishing I could sleep the next six months away. Being sick saps your physical and emotional strength. Then I'd feel guilty because I had no desire or ability to go to a couple job leads I'd heard about. My son asked me if I was going to apply. Given that I couldn't even talk, I didn't think it would make a good starting impression. Yet despite being legitimately down and out, I still found myself striving toward something not possible. Here of all times, I need to cut myself some slack and allow myself to be sick then heal.
Somehow over the years of hearing people tell me I can't give up and I have to remain strong and yes, accomplish the work of more that one on my own it has morphed into having unreasonable expectaitons for myself. Although, in my view, society holds unrealistic expectations for widows in general.
When we live with someone who is ill, we tell them to rest up, take it easy, take care. We pick up the slack and try to pamper with tea and tissues. I am just doing the dishes which I've left in the sink the past few days, not caring, not being able to stand up anyway.
I have come to believe through the years that all those platitudes that people say to bolster us up are full of air. The crap about being stronger because you've experienced hardship. Or that everyone can keep it up and keep on going. The crap about never ever giving up. Do you know what? I think people do peeter out. That sometimes we give up out of pure exhaustion and hopelessness. And what of it? Is it really so bad to hang it up and step out of the rat race of life for a moment. To take a break from the madness?
In widowhood, we're advised to pick ourselves back up and keep on trudging to make meaningful lives for ourselves. Of course, we need to do that. But I think at the same time, there are times when it is ok to step back and out; to retreat and instead of plodding forward tread instead of moving forward. Or maybe even take a step back. Why do we always have to be moving forward and improve? Getting sick I realize that there are life moments when it may be necessary to hunker down and just be. To maintain status quo may be a feat in itself.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Comfort of Fall

This year I seem more attuned to the approaching Fall season. We have been so blessed the past few days with cooler, Fall-like weather. Here, there is just a hint of the changing season in the air. The tops of some trees are starting to turn. I'd have to say that this is the part of Fall I most love, before it gets full-blown in October. Once the leaves really turn, one heavy rain is all it takes for it to be over. Now I have the chance to really savor this wondrous season.

I love seeing all the advertising and signs in the stores welcoming this time of year. The food choices including apples. I've already tried the new caramel apple sundaes at both McDonald's and Wendy's. Small, simple pleasures to help take the edge away from the worry I feel every day over getting through the next year financially. Now that my son is in college, I have to add some college expenses to the budget and they have turned out higher than originally expected.

Over the years, I have come to realize that for me, one of the surefire ways to ease my anxiety and misery is through nature. A walk in the woods especially. My soul longs for a rural existence and it is where I am relocating when this year is completed for my son in high school.

Each season brings its own comforts, but as the Starbuck's ad relates, Fall is perhaps most special. "Indulge in the comforts of Fall," the ad directs. Makes sense to me. Bring on that pumpkin latte. I am drinking spiced apple tea in the mornings and baked a batch of my Awesome Apple Bread. I gave a loaf to my girlfriend along with a cute apple potholder I knit. My friend liked the potholder so much, she told me she is going to frame it!

The summer was so hot I only went walking in my little hidden forest a few times. Now I can start walking every day again. That will give me great pleasure. I saw my first Halloween outdoor decorations today. A flock of witches in a circle in a yard. This year I will try and focus on these displays with lightness and laughter. Anything to help me stay sane and grounded as we move through this year. I feel on my last legs emotionally and financially. I asked for more hours at work and will have to go out looking for another job next week. Illinois has the highest unemployment rate in the country along with the highest gas prices (Chicago area). Yet my apartment rent just went up $100.00!

The comforts of Fall. More than ever I will use the beauty and hope nature inspires to give me courage and strength. It is free (except for the pumpkin lattes) and abundant. I'm not sure I can say that over the next month I'll be happy (too much stress and strain for that). But I can try and be cheerful despite the hardships. And by making a concerted effort to focus on nature, maybe I can be distracted and propelled on to the beauty of the holiday season.

Getting though one day at a time, one month at a time, one season at a time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Strength and Reslove

Tonight was the last Fall Curriculum Night I'll have to attend on my own. Mixed feelings but far more positive than negative. I really needed a shot of motivation to help me get through this next year because in a way, I've already checked out. But hearing my son's teachers praise the students and talk about how much they love teaching inspired me to put my nose to the grindstone and just get through this next year. I owe it to my son. I know it is hard for those outside our community to understand how special the boys' high school is but it is the ONE reason I've remained in this town.

Over and over tonight, I heard the teachers state how wonderful their school is, and the principal always mentions this every time she addresses the parents. The teachers all spoke of how fortunate they are to be able to teach at the school, and to have such top notch students and involved parents.

After getting my oldest off to college, I was feeling somewhat down and dreading having to get through one more year in this town. I am so ready to leave and move to a more affordable and rural location. Finances are very precarious for us right now and I am so very, very tired of struggling to barely make ends meet. That aspect of my life is just exhausting. But I have to keep my eyes and focus on the bigger picture. When all is said and done, later in my life, I hope the financial struggles will be a faint memory but that the memory of my sons attending and graduating from such a fine high school will be one of which I am most proud. Proud that I stuck out hardship to give my sons a solid education leading to college. Proud that they flourished and were popular students, especially after the losses in their lives. This school has been a beacon of stability and strength in our lives when that has been so lacking otherwise.

I have no doubt that the next months will be tough on my bank account and nerves. When times get really low I need to remember tonight. And the pride I felt for our little family, making it through hardship and focusing on quality education. My finances WILL eventually improve. What I've given my sons has been priceless and worth it.

My son's science teacher warned the parents (all of senior students) that the kids can't check out yet. College applications haven't been submitted - it isn't safe to slack off now. I thought that some of us parents are feeling the same way as our seniors right now so maybe my son and I can both motivate each other throughout this final year.

One teacher commented that life goes by so quickly. Senior year will be gone in a blink of an eye and to remind our students to enjoy this final year. In some ways I fear the year will go too slowly since we are struggling financially. I do hope it will be a fast year. As hard as it may get, I have to remember to enjoy these final seasons in a town I once so loved. But gosh, I am so ready to be out of here!!!

I was far less focused on being by myself tonight and tried not to look at all all the couples surrounding me. One mother asked a teacher if her kid could get extra credit since both she and her husband were attending. Lucky kid, I thought to myself to have both parents but a pretty stupid request from a silly woman. Then I thought that extra credit should be given to every kid at the school who had an only parent attend. Wish I had had the nerve to make my request like silly, married woman did.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

When I was a kid, Labor Day really meant that no one was working except at the hospital. If you needed gas or groceries you waited until Tuesday or prepared by buying them over the weekend. No one went out to McDonald's - we had cookouts with our family. Today that has all changed and what makes me feel sad is that the people I think need and probably deserve the break the most - those working in the service industry of sales and fast food, are actually still working on the day created to give everyone a rest!

Speaking of a rest. My oldest came home from college for the weekend, but this was not a planned visit. He advised me he was coming home while already on the train back. When he texted that he was bringing laundry, I actually groaned out loud. Laundry? I have to do MORE laundry over this holiday weekend? I did the laundry, although one of the nicer aspects of his being away is that there is less to do now. And for those who'd say I should have made him do the laundry, well his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years just broke up with him, and she was the reason he came home in the first place. I let him sleep in and have a bit of a break before heading back.

I've heard of women in my town who have gone to visit their kids away at school and have spent weekends cleaning their apartments. I don't think I'll ever end up doing that. For one thing, I'm just too tired these days for any more 'labor" or any more than I have to do. I do believe that my tiredness and weariness in regard to housework and such does relate directly to the many years I've been doing it by myself.

I just read that having to make decisions on one's own constantly is a huge responsibility and ends up causing significant life stress. I can attest to that. Apparently a lot of the stress ends up being in regard to fear of making the wrong decisions and then having to live with oneself when a wrong decision is made! Anyway, it is hard to always be the one deciding everything and having to make decisions without input.

So as for labor, I'm ready for retirement and a very long rest with my feet up! (I'm not kidding.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Awards & Validation

My sons are transitioning well into college and the senior year of high school.

My oldest is considering joining a business fraternity that offers internships to all its members. He claims that the members last year all got jobs within 3 months of graduation. He is doing well socially, but I knew that would be one of his strengths. When he auditioned for admittance into the music dept., the head of the music college was there, and was so impressed he invited my son out to lunch off campus for an opportunity to get to know him.

There was a period of a week and a half, when my son wanted to drop a class he didn't feel he'd do well in and his adviser was against the request. But that has been worked out within the time deadline and my son is much happier with his new class. It was a good exercise for him to have to stand up for himself and go after what he knew in his heart was the right decision. And to accomplish that on his own.

My youngest, went through a few tough days himself at the start of the year when all of his teachers kept making references to his older brother. But he has received a few "awards" of his own. His graphic arts teacher told him that he is one of the top two, if not top graphic artist in the school. As such, he was drafted to design the cover for the Fall Band Festival Program, the Homecoming Tickets and the Fall Play Posters. He has been working on the band design first since it is due on Tuesday and I have to say that the design and format are pretty incredible. I couldn't do what he does creatively and then with the computer. Good for him to finally get some recognition in an area his brother is not a star.

I feel sad at times that the boys' dad isn't here to experience the talents and awards of his sons. When I tell people, the few in my life I do talk to about my sons there isn't the sense of pride and warmth that would come from a parent experiencing the successes of one of their own. When my husband was alive it was enough to share the successes, talents and accomplishments of our boys with each other. With him gone, I find that I make and effort to tell someone the good news about my sons simply because I have to share it with someone. But oftentimes, the end result is one of disappointment because quite simply, no one can love your kids more than you do. They may nod and smile and say "that's nice," but it is somewhat rote and superficial. Just another "loss" to tick off on my list - for my sons and for me. And one that is taken for granted by those married or if not, still with a co-parent in which to share and bask in the joy that comes from having decent and pretty good kids. And I suppose I should add, that most kids are pretty good and decent. And most talented in something. So I do think that most parents share these moments together at certain points in their kids' lives - the soccer goals scored, the academic recognition, the band or orchestra solos...

Parents can get off on bragging about their offspring to each other. I sometimes fear that I may come across as a braggart or overly involved with my sons because when I talk to people I do mention the successes of my kids. But it's not like I'm going to dwell on what isn't going well for them (which thankfully has never been that much). Still, you know how there is always that PTA mom out there that has to brag about how her kids are in the gifted program (real example from my past). When she spreads it on thick it can get annoying. I spread it on because if I don't, I just might burst - I have to not because I'm overly singing my sons' praises. I think that when our kids do well, we can feel validated that we've also done something well. And boy of boy, do widows need to feel and hear that praise.

Friday, September 2, 2011


When I dropped my son off at his dorm, they had a Route 66 decoration theme that I thought was very clever and cute. To me it is representative of these freshman students taking off on a road leading them to a new future. All summer long, we prepared for this adventure. I heard some of my friends complain that their kids were acting out by being defiant and rude. I struggled with my son being out til 2 a.m. hanging out with his friends. But otherwise he was a good kid all summer. Working hard at his job and playing baseball on a college league in his spare time which wasn't much. When I brought up how some of his friends were acting out, he scoffed and replied that our family didn't need him to be creating such drama - we'd already seen our share and we wouldn't put us through anymore.

I read in a book about parenting teens headed off to college, that the summer before departure is one of realigning relationships within the family. They also talked about this during our orientation at the college saying that kids act up to create distance between their families, which then makes it easier for them to leave.

One point in the book that I found especially interesting stressed that for single parents, this transition is especially difficult because of the multiple roles a single parent plays. Whenever I encounter a point like this I feel so validated. Someone out there understands how hard it is to be an only parent like I am. I am not crazy feeling so tired, drained, exhausted and frustrated after years of raising my sons on my own. Yes, there is a great part of me that is so proud of how successful my sons are turning out. But it is often trumped by those other feelings which seem to overpower the good.

In my opinion, based on personal experience and my training in psychology, widowhood is far more complicated than people expect or acknowledge. There are so many conflicting layers such as this one: a parent taking on multiple roles. Most people don't stop and think of the complications. They just make comparisons based on other parents. It is rare to come across anyone who makes the distinction between a two-parent unit and a single or only parent one. I just find it an added burden to always be compared to the status quo when I'm so far from it. And I continue to wish that more people were aware of the issues facing only parents. I'm not sure any great changes would come of it. But simply for the public to have some more awareness of what only parent families face, may garner some sympathy and compassion for them in the future. And maybe that would be enough of a change to be helpful for others traveling this road that will follow me with younger children to raise.