Monday, January 31, 2011

Janurary Goodbye

This weekend, it was finally warm enough to take a wintry walk in my beloved little forest preserve. But now we're back to a winter blizzard warning to hit Tue.-Wed. I am surprised at how quickly the month of January went by. And for that I am grateful. January has long been my most dreaded month what with the cold and snow. The bed is extra large and lonely. It is dark early and dark upon awakening. It is the month that the pain of widowhood hits me harder, the month I feel most drained, discouraged and down. I hate the extra worry and anxiety about driving in wintry weather and now have to worry about teens driving too on icy covered roads. Although I love knitting scarves, I don't much like having to always bundle up. Winter adds too much to my already full plate and with the arrival of spring, there is such relief in having to "carry" less around. This is the season when I so much miss a partner available to help clean off the cars or run out in the snow for the needed milk...

I am aware that the month went by more quickly on account of my father's death and my son's involvement with the state talent contest. Maybe those were small blessings in disguise - despite the stress, those distractions that helped me focus on other things besides widowhood, January, winter and the blasted cold weather.

There is a sense of relief in closing the door on January and opening it into February, even though it is coming charging in and may be the biggest storm in the past decade. I made it through the cruelest month!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cowls and Change

I noticed at the Knit Club that all the women wore an item they had knitted be it a scarf, sweater, wrist warmers - and there were a lot of cowls/neck warmers. So it made me want to wear something too and with a $3.00 skein of yarn I created my own cowl which I wore last night.

At the meeting, I sat next to a woman whose daughter soon leaves for a mission assignment overseas. She also talked about her 55-year-old husband having lost his job in June. He has been on the job hunt but nothing is in the works and they are thinking of moving to Texas for a cheaper cost of living and to be closer to some family there. I think of my difficulty in finding "real" work, not the part time stuff I've been doing just to make ends meet. At times with this hostess job I am so bored I want to scream! I felt the same way cashiering at the big box store.

This all leads up to Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday. It was an interesting speech for me because the beginning of it reminded me a lot of widowhood. When Obama talked about the middle-aged population struggling to find employment he used words such as reinvention and having had known worlds collapse around you. Both of these descriptions so aptly fit widowhood as well.

The references to reinvention are really bothering me. Because having lived a life that has pretty much totally collapsed on all levels, I know first hand how difficult it is to reestablish oneself and start anew. Obama really didn't offer any examples or ideas of how people are supposed to "reinvent" themselves except to go back to school. This is troubling because I can't afford that option now except for a program at a community college because I have to concentrate on getting two kids through college - their education is the number one priority. My educational goals are secondary, yet I need to make enough to find a job where I feel emotionally fulfilled and economically stable.

Obama also talked about the health care crisis. Today I received notification that although my sons will still be covered under the State, I will lose my coverage. How am I supposed to afford medical insurance for myself now? It seems as though I can never get caught up (I'm assuming my insurance will run about $300.00 monthly). We can barely make it on the pension yet we qualify for no benefits other than the insurance such as for food and utility subsidies. My rent alone costs $1,200.00. I need a full time job with insurance benefits. But like so many other mid-lifers out of work am at a loss about how I go reinventing my work and career life.

I heard a horrifying statistic. I seem to recall that it was something along the lines that 85% (it might have even been higher) of people ages 55 and older currently out of work will never find work again. The suggestion was for mid-lifers to somehow try and create their own consulting type jobs and become independent contractors. Easier said than done.

This is all very gloomy and distressing. No one seems to have any real solutions. I want to try and remain positive that despite my outdated and defunct master's degree I can somehow turn my experience around and add some kind of training to it so I can work in an office again as a professional and actually have a health insurance plan. That will be the focus of my efforts at this point. But it is so hard with so much else always on my plate...

I wish it were as easy as simply taking an evening to knit a cowl. But therein perhaps lies the answer. I did knit a cowl to adapt and fit in. I have to continue to believe that it will happen on the major fronts too.

Lost Time

Here is a funny story. Well, not so funny too. I was going through old mail and came across a brochure for a weekend singles religious retreat. I kept thinking about it and decided to attend and became very excited about the opportunity. The group was for singles over 35 and although I thought I might be one of the older ones attending I was really looking forward to thoughtful Biblical study in front of a roaring fire and taking part of the free time activities offered including sledding and ice hockey. I was especially excited about the sledding part.

I went on line to register and saw that the registration was closed. But checking my calendar saw that I was still within the time period for registration. I figured that maybe the event was filled and decided to call the church after work to see if there was still a way I could attend.

When I got to work I realized that instead of it being the 19th of January, which for whatever reason was the date I thought it was, it was actually the 26th! The retreat registration was closed because the retreat had already occurred - last weekend! Where was/is my head? Part of me was questioning the dates with my mind thinking that it actually was later in the month. But somehow with all that was happening mid-month I lost a week.

I bring this up to shed light on the fact that those dealing with loss do suffer from strange mental relapses. Our minds are on overload trying to cope with grief AND manage the daily events of living which just don't stop. Yet the world expects us to continue functioning on all gears when some of the gears are shut down.

I can laugh at this strange occurrence but I do feel sad that I lost an opportunity to attend an event that would have been I am sure a good experience. It makes me realize that I'm ready to venture more out into the world and to start living much more actively than I have been. Or maybe its not that I am ready, it is just with the boys being older and more independent that I have the opportunity to start venturing out more. There will be other retreats and I will continue to meet more people.

I attended the knit club last night and am amazed at how much good it is doing me and how much I look forward to it all week long. I am knitting more and have met some interesting women. Last night one of the women asked me why I hadn't been more active on internet dating sites and I told her that when I've been on them, very few men have responded with interest to me. She was surprised and said she had a hard time believing that because I am "absolutely adorable!" I don't think anyone has ever described my looks like that - it must be my new cute haircut and glasses. The other week one of the women remarked that I look like a younger woman's sister who is very cute. I asked this young and pregnant woman how old she is guessing she was 31, which indeed she was. My comment back was how much of a compliment that was since I am 20 years this woman's senior at 51! And to be told that we could be sisters.

Those compliments on my appearance are so appreciated and needed. I don't get much feedback on how I really look and it was a huge boost to my ego. Makes me walk with an extra spring in my step and smile at the world more. I definitely see how much I have been missing not having social time out with the girls or a strong social network in which to interact with. We all need to hear compliments, to be told our knitted cowl neck warmer looks great, to hear we made someone's day... Better late than never. I have to cut myself some slack and to realize that with all that has gone on in my life it wasn't that possible to enter out socially until now. The time is now right and I am ready too. Both have to be in sync.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Come Together, Right Now

We are Green Bay Packers fans and living in the Chicago area among Bears fans can have its moments. I was actually punched on my shoulder twice the last week (hard, not just a tap) by guests at my job hearing of my alliance. My youngest son could not believe this. Punched? Yes, punched. How old were these people, he asked me. Middle-aged and both were women. Go figure!

I watched Obama's State of the Union Address last night and it made a positive impact. I really liked how the Democrats and Republicans were for once sitting side-by-side and the overall atmosphere seemed less contentious. Why are we such a contentious and judgmental society anyway? I asked my sister at the memorial for my dad why she has been so distant to me the past few years and her comment was that she has been too judgmental of me. She acknowledged that this is her issue and something that she has to work on. I left it at that but am curious why she has had such problems with me. I've been a poor, struggling mother. In my eyes someone deserving of some compassion not judgment.

Yet all of us seem to always want to be right. In the end what does it all matter? We should all try and be on the same side. Like what happened last night. We're all Americans and I think all of us want basically the same goals.

I have said it numerous times but will briefly say it again that widowhood has made me so much more aware of how judgmental people can be. Even I myself. Over the years I have received so many criticisms of how I have parented, grieved and lived my life. It has seemed that people in general feel more free to criticize because I am on my own if that makes any sense. When I had a husband by my side no one dared say some of the words I have heard. It was like being married provided me with an invisible protective screen around me. But that all aside, I know I have made a huge effort to be less judgmental and more kind since my husband's death. And my divorce.

I read somewhere that before speaking we should take care to make sure our words are "thoughtful, deliberate, kind and empathetic." We shouldn't be so hasty and quick to say the first things out of our mouths but take a moment to step back and consider our responses. We don't always have to agree but can disagree more kindly. Or at least give people more benefit of the doubt and reserve our judgment more often than not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Continued Grief Reflections

This is a continuation of my recent post about my father's death. It is also prompted by additional comment to that post from Boo, Beth, Flo and Cape Cod Kitty.

When I was in my early 30s, a co-worker's mother died. The co-worker was a grandmother and her mother well into her 90s but she and her mom were very close. They spoke at least three times a day on the phone and I know the mother had been very supportive to her daughter throughout the years including those spent in an abusive and difficult marriage. My co-worker was extremely grief stricken by her mom's death - her mom had been in good health up to that point and consequently she requested a two-week leave of absence. I found no problem with this but other co-workers raised their eyebrows in question. Why would she need so much time off?

As it turned out, my co-worker spent almost all of the two week-period of her time off in her attic going through her mother's possessions (I don't recall whose attic it was but it was an attic). I am reminded about this because of the response to my father's death, which was basically no response at all and Boo's comment that a death is a huge loss regardless of someone's age. Why do we not treat loss with more significance and compassion toward the grieving? I continue to struggle with this years after my husband's and then mother's and now my father's deaths.

My own mother was my rock throughout my husband's illness. She and my father could barely walk by that time, yet when I called them with emergency requests to watch my sons because I needed to get my husband to the ER, an hour away at the hospital he was being treated at, they came immediately and without any complaint. When my husband had his first stem cell transplant and had to stay in a special hotel for a few weeks in isolation he was unable to live there alone. My father ended up living with him because I had to be at home with the boys who were only 8 and 9. Again, no complaints at the hardship this caused my parents.

At the end, I would go into the hospital and spend the entire day sobbing. On the drive home to pick up the boys from the school aftercare, I would call my mom and talk to her about what the doctors had said, how my husband was doing (in a coma) and how I felt. She would stay on the line with me the entire hour drive home. She kept me sane during that period. And I have often reflected that I had such a hard time with my divorce because she was gone by then. She would have stood by me and probably said a thing or two to my soon-to-be-ex besides! Not having her support and love in my life made the divorce that much more difficult for me to get through. It has been about two years, and only now do I feel myself coming out of that fog of grief.

The absolute worst, most insensitive comment ever made to me about grief was said during my divorce mediation by the mediator who told me I had had so much experience with grief I should be better able to get over it more quickly. He also told me that since my marriage only lasted two years it wasn't really that much of a marriage and likewise I should be able to move ahead more quickly. I think of Boo's comments and say it didn't matter the marriage was only two years in duration. I adored my husband (he had saved me from widowhood) and I was absolutely devastated by the divorce and his rejection. Also, the fact that I had experienced the prior death of my husband and mom did nothing to brace me, strengthen me or make it easier for me to deal with my divorce. In the end, I think those events so close to one another actually made it far more difficult for me to face and deal with it. To this day I continue to miss and even love my ex-husband. Death, grief and loss don't always make us stronger. Sometimes I think they make us weaker.

And not having the support of my devoted mother only made it all the more challenging besides. I pay tribute here to my parents who stood by me in the darkest of my days. I wish my mom had been with me during my divorce but in some ways I think it is better that she died thinking that my life was okay and I had a husband to count on.

I have often said that I would never have started this blog if I hadn't divorced. This blog was my salvation from that event. I am a widow besides but it was really the divorce that plunged me into the deepest pit of despair and grief - unimaginable. I think some people think that I am still in some backward state of grief recovery because I am seven years out. But the loss of my beloved mother so soon after my husband and then my divorce was too much for me to bear. It was too much for my soul and heart to endure. There were some tough years following the divorce.

But I've survived, even after losing the house! I'm surely not thriving yet - life can still be a struggle. But I've gone on and even had another romantic relationship. And I've raised two boys totally on my own who've turned out to become pretty decent young men - I hear that in the apartment complex all the time - "Your boys are so nice," or "I really like your sons," or "Those are good kids there." Life has gone on but it has been hard and I'm not going to dismiss the challenges or heartache.

I wish it were easier for those of us on this road. I wish our society was kinder to widows and to anyone dealing with a loss. I have hoped these posts have helped others understand even just a little about what grief and loss do to the living. And you can be sure that I informed the mediator of his misconceptions.

Love and peace to all. And love and peace to those we have had to say goodbye to. Mom and Dad, I thank you for all you did for the boys and I. I probably never thanked you enough or conveyed how much I appreciated and loved you. I hope you know. Husband, know that everything I have done since your death has been for the boys and I know you must see them and be proud.

And now if I may add the wise words of author Jane Green here from "The Other Woman."

"I know that love isn't enough. You have to cherish the people you love, that saying I love you isn't ever enough, that you have to show that love each and every day, even when life threatens to get in the way.

If I may quote from someone else far more eloquent than I am, 'The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how much they love them while they're alive.'"

Bright Lights, Big City

First of all let me explain my absence the past few days - we haven't had internet service and it was just fixed today - something with the DSL thingee. Anyway, I don't understand all the technicalities. But I wanted to go back to my son's talent contest so no one is left hanging as to the outcome. I'll cut right to the chase and say he did not place at all out of the 45 competitors. But it is still a good story so bear with me.

We left last Friday evening, with my youngest opting to stay with a friend because he admitted that he could not endure "The Golden Boy" winning yet another contest/award. My sons had just finished finals week which was stressful. My oldest's last class on Friday was music technology and his band director told him that his composition being composed for the Senior Farewell Concert in May is the best piece ever done in the past 20 years. So we set off on the trip with my son pretty inflated with that praise.

Arriving at our destination around 9:00 we treated ourselves to a rare dinner out at Applebys and just staying in a hotel was pretty special. My son fell asleep right after dinner and I was trilled that the restaurant was next to the hotel because I got to have two house Margaritas for only $3.00 each. What an even better and rare treat!

In the morning, a very nice breakfast was included with our stay and nothing makes me feel more in heaven than free food and getting waited on a bit. The convention center where the competition was held was also across the street and we were lucky to snag a parking spot or we would have had to leave the van at the hotel and walk a short distance.

My son spent most of the afternoon in the practice rooms going over his song. I was a little concerned because he decided to perform a piece he had just written after his grandfather died. I felt he should stick with a more familiar song, not one just written. But in the end, after hearing it a number of times, I became sold on the song - its message is about living fully everyday and especially connecting with our loved ones. My son was totally into the song and I could see that he was feeling the lyrics. I figured it was a good tribute to his grandfather and his father.

In the practice room, my son got to meet and talk with a lot of kids already in college, some attending Southern Illinois Univ., which is my son's third college choice at this point. So it was nice for him to interact with these young people. And they were all very supportive of one another. My son performed relatively early in the contest but sat with me for the first five performances. We ended up looking at each other and shaking our heads with my son saying, "We should just leave now." The caliber of acts was outstanding. It was the first time my son was in a group of kids as talented or more talented than he and I think the first time that happens (usually when kids go away to college) it can be quite sobering. The same thing happened to me when I went from high school to college and was no longer the biggest music and theater star and was just another fish in a big pond of other talented fish!

But my son performed extremely well. And when I played back the video tape, there is nothing I could find fault with. The winners of the competition included a Barber Shop Group of Five males, two female tap dancing groups (very glitzy) and a free style female dancer. There were no vocal or instrumental winners and besides my son, no other performer sang their own composition. He was also one of the few performers singing and playing an instrument (guitar). This is what made me the most proud!

The other singers all told my son how good he is and to not be discouraged because it just wasn't the right venue. One, suggested that my son might want to consider going more toward Christian rock, as his pieces have a slight leaning in that direction already. I have always encouraged him toward that direction and it was good for him to hear it from another musician his age.

While the judges deliberated, they opened up the performing area and just let all the kids dance and converse with one another. To me, that was the most fun of the evening - to see such a nice bunch of kids all interacting together from across the state and all different walks of life and communities. My son couldn't believe the kids from Southern Illinois all had accents!

The ride home was tough for about the first 30 minutes - my son was clearly upset and didn't want to talk. But we stopped at a gas station for a drink and snack and he gradually opened up. I really enjoyed the time spent alone with my son and despite his loss, there were some gains. First of all, he has another excellent song in his repertoire. He performed in front of more people than he ever has before and that adds to his experience. He got $100.00 from our county which I think was supposed to cover our hotel, but I let him go ahead and keep it. Then there is all the good learning stuff about not always having to be a winner to come out a winner. I told him to let the tap dancing girls enjoy their glory and to be happy for them. His turn will come again, of that I am sure.

AND BEST OF ALL, now my youngest son can stop referring to his brother as The Golden Boy because he did indeed lose! In fact, my youngest was very surprised and kind to his brother when we got home.

My son performed the song for my family and some guests at my father's memorial which was the next day. My brother-in-law remarked that he could not believe an 18-year-old wrote the words and music - the words alone are so sophisticated and far more mature than what most 18-year-olds write about (love lost, finding love, being in love, etc.). My son's songs really have meaning. There was a friend of a friend at the contest too from another county, and I was told by him that he thought my son's voice was fantastic! More good feedback.

I came across another song of my son's on the computer a few days ago (it is an older song my son said). This one is about finding the good within the bad and again, I cried reading the lyrics. "That's it," I said to myself. These songs need to get out there so this summer I will endorse my son trying out for American Idol and seeing about getting him posted on YouTube. I think I might talk to his band director too for some ideas of where we go from here. And I want to check into copyrighting his material as well. As I've mentioned before, as tempted as I am to post his lyrics on this blog, I have resisted for fear of someone "stealing" them. I think they are that good and I am being as impartial as a loving mom can be when I say this.

So in the end, my son didn't win. But he gained a whole lot that will help carry him on his way. And I told him he will always have a good story to tell about not winning if ever he gets interviewed on a talk show when he is signed to a record label or wins American Idol!

And I should mention too, that in a way I dreaded taking this trip (dreaded it from the time my son won the local contest in July knowing I'd have to deal with the trip by myself, etc.). I am so tired of the doing everything as an only parent, but I tried to just go with the flow and enjoy the whole experience and be there for my son. And that attitude helped a lot. This time observing all the intact families around me was a little less painful. I chose to concentrate on what I have, two terrific sons, rather than what I don't have. Yes, I miss desperately having a husband by my side. But my son and I were standing beside one another and that counts for a whole lot! Maybe I've never let myself see or feel that before.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reflection, Renewal and Healing

It has been less than a month since my father's death and I have been doing a significant amount of reflecting on grief, loss and the way our society deals with these issues. At work, no one and I repeat NO ONE, acknowledged my father's death. Not one "I'm sorry" or "How are you doing?" I know that I am a new employee and that some of the people I work with are younger. But not one acknowledgment seemed so bizarre and insensitive. What are we teaching our young people in school, what are parents teaching their children about life and death?

I know that an elderly parent's death warrants less sympathy in the grand scheme of things than a young person or even middle-aged one. There was sympathy provided when my husband died. But somehow this blatant disregard in acknowledging the loss of my dad hit me very hard.
When I mentioned that my father had died on 12/21 to the group of friends I went out with on New Year's Eve, one of the women actually told me to stop talking about it because she did not want to ruin her evening. I wasn't planning of dwelling on the subject. I just mentioned it because it was a big factor in my life. To have such a major event dismissed is troubling to me.

The last week has been insane. Dealing with the repair of two vehicles, getting the boys through finals, filling out the college financial aid reports, going to work, trying to shop for an outfit to wear to my father's service (unsuccessful), and dealing with all the requirements of getting my oldest to the talent contest, in addition to all the other normal duties of life as a widowed mom pulled me under the waves. There was just too much on my plate. I was exhausted and absent minded. I ended up losing the key to our mail box and having to pay $40.00 to have the lock changed. I also lost my knitting bag and all my expensive gadgets, implements and a skein of yarn from the project I was working on.

We got home from the talent contest at 2:00 a.m. Sunday (I'll post about the talent contest in another entry). I awakened tired and still had to quickly go through boxes and bags of my father's photos and awards to take to the service, starting at 1:00. I was upset with my family for being put in the position of having to jump through hoops to attend the ceremony. I felt more consideration should have been given to my situation with the talent contest where we could have held the ceremony either the week before or after that event. Again, I constantly struggle with how so few people get how hard it is to be an only parent. To just get through a normal week is challenging enough but to add on extra ordinary events pushes me beyond my limits.

I certainly was on an adrenaline rush last week. But now I seem to have crashed. I am exhausted and it is so cold here. I just want a day to myself, to take some time to reflect on my father and to renew my spirit. I am reminded of my husband's death and how there is approval for grief during the funeral and early period which gradually dissipates around the three month mark. Now that my father's service is over I'm supposed to be magically recovered, only I am finding that I'm not. The problem becomes trying to find the time to reflect and renew. As a widowed mom there is even less opportunity to fit this into my life.

I read in Dr. Phil's column in this month's "O" magazine about a woman who feels smothered by her husband's attentiveness - she lost both her parents in the past year and he apparently is worried about her well being. She feels he is being overattentive. Good for him I want to say. There are some of us out here dealing with grief and life on our own. We don't hear many words of kindness or concern or receive the support of a loving, caring spouse.

I recently was told that phrase I have absolutely grown to hate - "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." First of all, how does God really know how much I can handle? I've pretty much reached my limit as this past week has demonstrated. Message to God here - "You can stop the challenges for awhile. They are not making me stronger. I am becoming weaker, in fact. Ease up on the worn and weary and especially the widowed. We already carry such a burden in our hearts and souls." For those who believe adversity brings on strength, I will counter that sometimes that is not the case. I know it is contrary to what one would expect. But people only can handle so much before breaking.

As for the weeks and months ahead. If I have learned anything from my husband's and my Mom's death, it is that I will not stop grieving or put my needs aside because of the discomfort of others. I need time for healing, reflection and renewal with this new loss. I won't stop talking about it. Maybe I'll ask for a day off.

The dead deserve respect and we provide that with services and memorial. But so do the living and somehow we seem to shortchange the ones left behind. We are expected to go on demonstrating strength and courage. The reality is that without taking the time for renewal and healing, it isn't really possible to go on successfully.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ode to a Purse

After three years of making due with whatever has already been in my closet, I ended that period of deprivation with a purchase of a much needed purse today. A $12.00 purse from Family Dollar, no less. But I have wanted it since seeing it in the fall. And it is making me very pleased and happy. I love the plum color as I usually carry green bags. Purple/amethyst is supposed to represent plenty and financial prosperity and I can use all the good luck now whether superstition or not.

And that brings me to having to say goodbye to my present bag. I was lucky to find it in the closet this spring, still with its tag on, a BOGO from Payless some years ago. I ended up loving this bag - the bright green color that cheered me, the large size big enough to carry a paperback, knitting project and small lunch if need be. So although I usually change my bag in fall to one in an autumn color, this year partly because lack of funds and because I loved the bag so much, I just kept using it. And still kept using it up until now when I like to change bags to fit the winter season - a more muted color tone.

I hate to say goodbye to this purse that I would probably have never even used if I hadn't had to go digging for one since I couldn't afford a new one last spring. It is showing signs of wear and I think when items become shabby it is time to retire them. This bag will go down as one of my all time favorites. It served me well and gave me a lot of enjoyment every time I carried it and even looked at it.

I am not into designer handbags but a few years ago did fall in love with an orange leather satchel from Talbots that was almost $200.00. I thought about waiting to purchase it when it went on sale but never got around to it. Funny, how an inexpensive item can bring so much enjoyment and be practical and useful at the same time. This $20.00 bag from Payless I am sure ended up bringing me even greater pleasure than that over priced Talbot's bag.

I like my new plum bag too even though it is not leather - like that it is from Family Dollar and only $12.00. I don't think I'll end up "loving" it but it is nice to have a new bag and to retire one that has served its purpose but is now past its time.

I have come to appreciate the deals found at stores like Family Dollar. I have a new bag that didn't break the bank, looks good and pleases me because I've treated myself to something new, as well as needed.

Goodbye to the old, and hello to the new. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to things we love and let new things in even if they are unfamiliar and different.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Laundry Stacked to the Sky

Dialogue from "To Have and to Hold" by Jane Green:

"I feel so happy that I don't have to go into Manhattan anymore and stand next to Joe making boring small talk with the boring wife of one of his clients, and then five minutes later I'm terrified. I can't believe that I'm going to be a divorcee, that I'm never going to wake up and see Joe lying next to me. THAT THERE ISN'T ANYONE TO STAND UP FOR ME, OR STEP IN FOR ME, OR TAKE OVER WHEN THINGS GET TOO DIFFICULT."

"I know," Emily says. "That's the bastard about being single. You have to do everything yourself. But on the plus side, you haven't got anyone telling you what to do. You can eat Ben & Jerry's for breakfast, lunch and supper if you want."

Alice snorts. "If you want what? If you want to grow into the size of a house?"

I am snorting too. I'm too tired, drained, discouraged and disillusioned most of the time to do anything fun for myself anyway. What is the point? I'd much rather be sharing life with a partner right now taking out the garbage on a shared basis than have a choice of whatever I want to eat.

This week I have to figure out how to get the van towed and looked at for a repair estimate. The sedan needs to be repaired as I have to drive my son to a talent competition at the end of the week about 300 miles away. Arrangements need to be completed for that - what my son will wear, etc. and plans for having a place to stay for my youngest while we're gone. I still need to figure out if we'll stay over in a hotel or make the trip in one day. Have to work Mon - Fri on my feet, the boys have finals this week, and I want to go through some of my father's things as his memorial service is on the 16th. Also need to figure out financial aid applications for my oldest - gosh, I hope that can be postponed to next week!

All of that and still I need to do laundry, make dinner, shop (although maybe this week we'll rely more on fast prepared options). How am I going to drop off the sedan and then get to work? I'm hoping the guys at the body shop will drive me but then there is the need for a ride back to the shop from work. It is too long a distance to walk.

I'm feeling overwhelmed with too many decisions to make and too much to do. Now is the time I could use that help Jane Green refers to - someone to step in for me to give me a hand.

The above photo is just one of the piles of laundry currently in our home. This is of the boys' clothing. We have another of towels, my stuff and a huge bag of white socks that I seem to never get to - it just stays in the closet. At $3.00 to do a load of wash, I ration it out, doing what has to be done. Then there is the issue of getting a chance to do the laundry anyway, as it seems whenever I go downstairs both machines are occupied. In my home, I had a super capacity washer and dryer - these machines don't allow me to fill them with half of what I'm used to.

Today, I've managed to get two loads done despite having to wait until late afternoon for a free machine. I plan on doing another load so the laundry basket stacked up halfway along the wall and pictured above will be greatly reduced.

And with that I sign off. It is so cold and dark and I am tired and just want a day where there isn't so much to do, plan, think about and decide by myself.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Small Surprising Graces

Yesterday I went to the knit club and had another great evening. The top photo is a crochet pattern from Annie's Attic I am starting work on. I am going to make it into a picture instead of a pillow to frame and place in my kitchen (I collect bird houses and love birds). I sat with two members at the club and got into an extensive conversation about the need for having a job one feels passionate about. I am so glad to have been connected with this group. I also met a woman at work (a customer) who came in and in talking together learned she was widowed, then divorced after remarriage in part, due to problems between her new husband and her two teen sons. We exchanged phone numbers after we also found out that we both collect the exact same type of vintage glassware. I'm not sure how much contact we'll have since she lives an hour away but it was good for me to meet another remarried widow my age who got divorced - sometimes I feel like I'm the only one out there.

After work today, I had a few minutes of spare time before picking up my oldest from school and stopped at the Barnes and Nobel for another browse, thinking maybe I had missed the desktop calendars. Lo and behold there was an entire table of them! I had three kinds I liked to choose from! When I checked out I mentioned that I must be going batty because I'd just been there Monday and there were no desktop calendars to speak of. Luckily, my sanity is preserved because I was told they had recently opened up some stock in left over boxes in the back which is why they were now out and hadn't been out on Monday. So I get to return the cherry design! Yeah! I don't need to win the lotto to be happy - just let me have a cute calendar to carry throughout the year!

Then, when I picked up my son, he told me that this afternoon he was chosen to represent the school in the athletic conference as a student adviser in volleyball. Each school in the conference picks one student in each sport. It seems to be a pretty big honor. Another notch on his college resume/application. He also told me that he has finished the music composition for the band and his instructor has told him it will be played at the final band concert with my son conducting. For the last three years I have been attending the senior farewell band concert and hearing the student composition played at the end. I never thought that maybe in his senior year it would be my son conducting that piece. I have shed a tear in the other concerts - oh my gosh, even the band director cries so how in the world will I not be sobbing this year as my son leads the band in performing his own piece?

I realize now that it was the right decision for my sons to finish high school here and not move with Sam out of state. My oldest would not be volleyball captain or have received this recent honor as Sam's state doesn't have boy's volleyball in high school. Nor would my son have won the school talent show or the one in our community. This was the best decision for our family (maybe not all families) and I am grateful that today I was shown that the hardship we have endured has been worth it in the end.

I am also grateful for the other small graces that surprise me throughout the day. Meeting a woman facing similar experiences, finding the perfect calendar after giving up and having to settle for one and then spying a funny little frog in a planter picking up dollar tacos for the boys (I deal with leftovers).

Small surprise graces to get us through the dark days of winter and propel us onward with more hope.

Tea and Calendars

Remember the good old days when the only tea you could buy was Lipton? When I was a kid, my Mom hung a linen calendar towel on the door leading to the basement and we used the calendar with nature scenes from Rexall Drug that we got free and the little paper date books from the Hallmark store to carry in our purses. Anyone recall those?

Today there are 100s of teas out there to choose from and 1000s of calendars. I always laugh when they put the calendars out in the stores in October but this year I'm not laughing. I usually am able to get my calendars after the holidays for half price in January but this year on January third when I went out, the stock was pretty depleted. I had to go to a number of stores and bookstores before finding my daily knitting and crochet pattern calendars. And there were really no day books, which I carry in my purse and rely on all year to chose from. I ended up with the only one besides the Sierrra nature calendar or ugly black leather ones, with cherries on the cover. Usually I get brightly colored floral designs or ones with birds and feel sad I had to settle for the cherries. Next year, I am going to buy all my calendars in October and then will not have to worry about not finding them and being disappointed.

Picking out a calendar is one of the rituals I have come to enjoy about the new year. I am thinking that maybe this year there were fewer left because more people were out shopping and spending and also that calendars make inexpensive gifts. There has never been such a lack of selection.

Then there is the tea. I love Joy tea by TAZO and it is only sold at the holidays and Starbucks. Last year we were so poor I didn't even consider getting any but two years ago went on a wild goose chase for some because I'd waited too long to pick up a box. And I never found any. It was sold out. This year I luckily found a large supply at the second Starbucks I hit and I am so happy at the great pleasure that find brought me as I am only a tea drinker, no coffee.

Such small pleasures, tea and calendars. And also what turmoil they can bring from there being too many to select from. This never would be an issue in my childhood. Not another task to cross off one's list (buy cute calendars with cover designs that speak to you - don't forget to pick up box of special tea that only comes out for one month a year). There is also the added issue of always having to settle because of our reduced circumstances. Before widowhood when there weren't financial problems I bought my calendars in October. But with money being tight, I've waited to the last possible moment and then had a hard time finding the ones I want. I suppose I could go with a cheap dollar store version, but the $21.00 I spent on the three calendars I got seems a fair price to pay for accessories most of use daily and take for granted anyway. Calendars and date books are pretty essential to our busy lives, especially with kids' schedules to keep track of.

And now I am going to brew a cup of Joy tea and delight in the joy it brings my senses. It's been two years since I've had a box and the pleasure is that much sweeter! And maybe, I will pick up a second box to make up for the two years I went without. But just maybe - I find that I have become extremely frugal. Not such a bad thing for this former shopaholic (before widowhood).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nature Resting

I finally got to take a walk a few days back and was surprised at how barren and drab the landscape in my little forest preserve had become. It made me reflect upon nature taking a break or nap for the next few months. I shifted that focus to me and my need to be like nature in winter and take some time off too from grief and all this self-processing. It is okay to take a vacation now and then and just be without trying to overcome, grow or self-actualize. We're not machines. Our minds, bodies and spirits need rest and rejuvenation.

I never would have imagined the amount of "work" that goes into coping with a major loss and then the aftermath of going on solo before my husband died. It is a very depleting and exhausting process - one that seems never ending. But I want to take a cue from nature here and spend the next few months restoring my soul - hard when it is so cold out there now. But I need some TLC, not harsh resolutions to start out the new year.

I don't understand anymore how people can go from feasting and merriment one day to the Slim Fast or Special K diet the next. There needs to be a gradual shift from one mind set to the next in order for say, a diet to be successful. On that note, here are my goals for January. I've decided to go for monthly goals instead of resolutions this year.

1. Reduce/delete the emails in my in box. Yesterday I had 5044. That is not a typo. Today I am down to 4300. By month's end it would be wonderful to be left with only 100! We'll see. I have a hard time letting anything go (relationships, possessions, read text messages, memorabilia) - pretty much everything and it got worse when my husband died, hence the great difficulty in having to clear out those storage sheds.

2. Eat better in general. No specific diet. Just watch what I eat more carefully.

3. Try not to leave any dirty dishes in the sink overnight.

4. Put my keys and glasses in the same place so I don't have to run around like a raving banshee two or three times a day trying to locate them.

5. I have a bookshelf filled with old craft magazines. It looks messy. I just want to go through the magazines and get rid of them (donate or recycle) so by the end of January the bookshelf looks attractive and not a mess.

That's it for now. Too many goals doesn't seem like a good idea - too overwhelming. I'm starting out slow and can always add if I complete one before the end of the month. Accomplishing the dishes and being able to find car keys and glasses alone will be a huge improvement in reducing the stress in my life.

11 Things that are Tolerable About Winter:

1. I do like wearing scarves and gloves (the brighter the color combinations the better).

2. Winter food like casseroles, hot chocolate and soup are good.

3. It is enjoyable to bake bread and other goodies.

4. Wearing a coat helps cover any pounds that may creep up from eating casseroles.

5. Fires in fireplaces are nice to snuggle up in front of.

6. I could live in flannel p.j.s all day.

7. It is lovely to sleep under lots of covers and still not be too warm.

8. Because the days are shorter there is more of an excuse to go to bed earlier with a good book, under warm covers in flannel p.j.s drinking a cup of hot chocolate.

9. Warm wool socks and sweaters are great to wear.

10. Nothing says warmth and coziness like a hand knit afghan. Knitting is always better in winter.

11. Snowmen are cute!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

For anyone eager to move past the holidays, they won't need to wait long because Valentine's Day candy is already up at my grocery store. I remember earlier in the season being upset when Christmas lights were put up at Halloween but now that the holidays are over, I feel a bit sad.

Since my husband's death, the holidays have never the same. I was thinking this year about how we no longer ride around the pretty neighborhoods looking at the twinkling lights. I am always so rushed, even the years when we didn't really celebrate much. Now the holidays are over and I feel that I really didn't even have an opportunity to savor them. By the time the dust settles and I am in a place to enjoy the season, it is already over. I suppose this is ditto for whatever season we are in - the elegance of autumn, fun of Halloween, the radiant spring sunshine and flowers. By the time I even realize and appreciate the season I am in, it has already passed and we are whizzing ahead to the next event on the calendar.

I was always busy as a young married mom, but never felt the regret of the passing seasons as I have as a widow. Somehow there was more time because I had more help and a partner by my side to share the season with. It makes a huge difference. I hope this year is different in some way. I'm not sure how I can make my life less busy and full. But I hope in some way to try and greet each special holiday with an intensity I haven't been able to in previous years. Maybe I need to spend a little time each week planning for Christmas and Halloween starting now? I know that in Victorian times the women made all their gifts and the preparations began in the summer. This year I do not want to see the holidays flit by without being able to say that I felt them in my heart!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Opening the Door to 2011

My original Christmas gift from Sam was a cat necklace. He was so excited to give it to me and I was so initially disappointed. It looked like the ones my son and I had seen at Walmart for $5.00 and rather than put on a cheery face and say "I love it," I neutrally said, "It looks like the ones we saw at Walmart for $5.00 and after dating for 2 1/2 years I think I'm worth a little more than that." Sam told me the necklace wasn't from Walmart but I still didn't want the cat. Not that the cat wasn't cute - it was, but when I showed it to my youngest, he hooted with laughter and sputtered out a chocked, "Why did he get you a cat?"

Well, Sam got me a cat because I do like cats. Love them intensely would be more like it and I've had cats my entire life, at one point even owing eight of them (after one had kittens)! But that was the problem. I saw myself putting on the necklace and becoming even more branded as a "crazy, widowed cat lady." Yes, I know there isn't a whole lot of logic behind this. But my mind equated the cat necklace with my widowed status and quite frankly I am fed up of being a widow and have resolved to not be a widow any longer than I have to in 2011. In fact, my resolution for 2011 is to work on ditching the widowhood gig.

So I sincerely did not want the cat necklace and wouldn't have enjoyed wearing it. I would have dreaded wearing it. I kindly asked Sam if he would please return it for a design I had been coveting all year - a key. At first he resisted and said he wouldn't take it back and then he said he wasn't even sure he had the receipt. When I told him I would take it back myself for an exchange with or without a receipt he sprang into action and the next day I received my key necklace.

I LOVE the key necklace. It is symbolic of hope, opening the door to a new year and new future. I don't want to keep accepting things that are given to me that I don't like or want. I think all of us are entitled to have things that are meaningful and that we love in our lives. It is one of the reasons I make sure the gifts I give are items that are really wanted or I give gift cards. No longer do I want to pretend to be happy with items that don't make me happy just to make other people more comfortable.

So I got my key necklace and it makes me happy and hopeful. But it does bother me a little that I had such a negative reaction to the cat necklace in the first place. I just want to move beyond the widowhood label, and identification with it. I don't want to be a widow anymore. I want an identity beyond widowhood and one that looks more positively into the future. For me that does mean moving on toward a committed relationship leading to marriage. I hold the key in my hand but need to start opening and unlocking some doors to reach that goal. It is okay to want this and go after it. No one is going to send me a new husband knocking on my door. But I have the power to knock on doors and see how they open. Will Sam open one of them? I don't know anymore. I do know that if he isn't opening the door now, that I need to look for a man who is ready to do so - that I can't keep waiting indefinitely without some sort of formal commitment toward a future together.

Sam feels I want to get remarried because I am insecure. I disagree with him. I want to get remarried because it does offer security and benefits that do not exist otherwise in our society. No one questioned me wanting to get married when I married my husband at age 30. I still want love, safety, security, commitment, companionship - the whole nine yards like most people out there. I know that I thrive in a committed relationship and being in one that isn't exclusive is very unsettling to me. It is time to become unsettled and strive for what brings wholeness and contentment to our lives, whatever that may be for each of us.