Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alone - Really Alone!

Yeah! I am able to post again! Some weeks ago I snapped this photo at a summer festival my girlfriend and I attended. I kept noticing anyone that was alone. For some reason I have really felt the effects of being on my own for a number of years now. I think it has to do with reaching the milestone of getting one son off to college and really having a perspective of how much that has taken to accomplish on my own.

Another revelation that happened occurred on July 4th. My girlfriend has a party/bbq that day since her divorce and my husband's death. This year my sons were in Lake Geneva, WI boating, but I still attended. Also there, was an old neighbor of my friend, a single mom of three adopted kids. She has had a tough time of it. Her children were born with numerous birth defects from a drug-addicted mom. Anyway, whenever we get together which is a couple of times a year, this mom monopolizes the conversation and goes on and on about how difficult her life is, etc. I try to offer constructive advice and I have to say that I even find it a change to listen to someone who is also struggling. But at the same time, about an hour or two into the conversation it gets pretty old and even I want to shut this woman up. "OK enough already! This is such a downer! I can't stand listening anymore to your problems. Please try and look at things with a more positive attitude..."

Then I remember that this woman doesn't have anyone to talk to, confide in or simply vent to. Getting together with my girlfriend and I are often the only times she has to ask for a second opinion or relate the obstacles she is trying to overcome. I realize that I might sound like a downer when I talk to others too, and that I probably have in the past. Basically, because when you live alone, you end up with all this stuff that needs to get out and to be shared with others. And when that happens you let loose.

It was an odd realization to find myself feeling annoyed with this woman, even when I understood the reasons for her monopolizing the conversation and why it had such a negative slant. Even worse to see myself in her behavior. And still worse to comprehend on a larger scale the effects of living alone and to see them play out before my eyes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Caught these costumed mice in my grocery store's floral dept. the other day and noted that Halloween is still over three months away! I love seeing how early I'll spot holiday items months before the actual date. But anyway, my youngest son mentioned that I haven't been blogging much and that is true of late. It is a strange and disorientating summer. I suppose a lot has to do with my oldest going off to college. They talked about family transitions at the college orientation and maybe for us/me it is even more of one.
I know that in the weeks leading up to my son's graduation I was journeying into a funky mood. It has not abated. The best I can do to describe it is to explain that for many, many years now my entire focus and energy has been on getting my sons out of high school successfully, and from this specific high school at that. Now that that day has come for my oldest with the youngest to follow next year, it is as though I have abruptly lost that focus. I feel at loose ends, without direction and unsure of my immediate future.
I do know that I cannot remain living in this area on my own. I don't make enough to live comfortably and just keeping our heads above water has become too wearing on my being and soul. The traffic and large population of our area is also getting to me. I long for a rural place, more quiet and slower paced. I have no idea what career direction I'll take. I want to work for 20 more years but have not done well figuring out how I can harness an out-dated master's degree in psychology into a position that will be personally rewarding to me and helpful to the world and others. I guess I can try and focus on that after my oldest goes off to college and I have more free time.
There is this huge part of me that just wants me to be gone from this place, right now, immediately! But I have promised to be here for my youngest, who already feels slighted by the successes of his older brother. I owe him that and I will honor that commitment. How can one year seem so endless in duration?
Part of me is just so darned tired too. Emotionally, spiritually and physically. The past eight years of only parenting have been very stressful and have taken a toll. I am lacking in spirit and energy. The excessive heat and endless storms we keep having here doesn't help.
People in the past have told me that I've been so strong. That is not true. I just did the best I could under sometimes pretty tough circumstances. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. That is still happening now but I must say it is more of a rote/automatic process and I seem to have lost something. I had a goal I was working very hard toward (getting my sons through school) and now that I have almost fully accomplished that I am left hanging... Living alone, without a partner adds to the mix. There is no one here to divert my thoughts or to refocus on.
I have come to know that transitions are hard on us all. But maybe for widows they're a little harder to face and move through.

Monday, July 18, 2011


It is that time of year where the weather is scorching but Fall merchandise starts appearing in stores. There is something about this incongruity that really bothers me but in a way it serves to remind us that this too will pass and eventually the heat index won't be 105 degrees.

Now if I just weren't the only person in my household refilling the ice cube tray!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Two years ago at this time I was cashiering at a big box store and ringing kids and their parents up for college/dorm gear. I asked each one where they were going, why they were going there, their majors and what they liked best about the college of their choice. I learned about Big 10 schools like Purdue and tiny Christian colleges I'd never heard of. I was particularly interested in comments about the school my oldest wanted to attend. I ONLY heard positives about this school, including how the professors invited the kids over to their homes for dinner parties, ate lunch with their students and even gave out their home phone numbers!

Part of me was disbelieving that my son would be able to go away to school. I figured at best, he'd attend our very good local community college and transfer on for his second or Junior year. We were in the middle of selling our home for a virtual wash (I received sale proceeds only enough to move and put a down payment on an apartment home). It was an extremely difficult and despairing time for me.

But now here we are having recently returned from a long and thorough two-day orientation at that university I ONLY heard good things about. And yes it is true that the profs give out their home numbers - the university President even gave his email out with the assurance that he reads and responds to each and every one!

To go from disbelief to belief! All that worrying and fear for naught. I'm not sure I would not have been able to not worry or despair those years ago. I just wish I hadn't done so much of it. Because I think in the end, hopefully for the most part, life has a way of working out. My son is going to the college of his choice and it is an amazing fit for him. He has already been asked to be a campus student leader and to join a group of young men who escort female students across campus at night for safety. He is also already taking classes in his actual major, which thankfully are his earliest 8:00 a.m. classes so he is eager to get up and attend.

I would describe his college with these words: extremely positive, helpful and welcoming. He was accepted on Feb. 14 and between that time and now received at least 8 phone calls from current students welcoming, congratulating him and acting as a sounding board for any of his concerns or questions. All that positivity those two days at orientation really rubbed off on me. I felt so much more confident, happy and hopeful. It makes me want to be less negative and focused on all that is difficult in my life. Yes, widowhood has its challenges and I don't think I am the best suited person for this lifestyle. I have certainly struggled. But I'd like to take a cue from my son's university here and try to make the next year less of a hardship, drain and chore and more into a hopeful vision of what can be for and in my life in the future. Because in the end all that worrying, anxiety and extra 10 pounds were for nothing. What I couldn't see as happening actually did happen. How easier life would have been if despite the hardships I'd been a bit more believing and hopeful.

So now I know. I know to be more positive, hopeful and enthusiastic for my younger son entering his senior year (and doesn't have a clue where he wants to go) and myself. Because life will probably all turn out over the next year vs. it not turning out. I have learned that because it has happened and I have actual proof.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life vs. Life

There is life and then there is life. Ordinary, little day-to-day life like this morning when we're getting ready for a 9:00 a.m. park district baseball game. No one wanted to go - this is a league made up of college-bound young men and it is supposed to be fun. It is Saturday and my youngest is grumpy, annoyed that his brother isn't going because of his work schedulue. None of us are morning people - we're a household of night owls. To curb his frustration my youngest darted about before we left pointing out all the "transgressions" his brother was guilty of. "See," he griped thrusting a pair of boxers into my face. "He left them on the sofa - your nice new sofa. And he left the orange juice out all night. And I stepped on a plate of catsup from the dish he left on the floor. He didn't text the coach to tell him he isn't coming and I was yelled at the last time because the coach had to change the lineup. And I shouldn't be yelled at. So, what are you going to do about all this? I can't wait til he is gone..."

Not the kind of thing I want to hear or deal with trying to get out to make it on time for a game a fair distance away. Of course, I took the wrong route, opting for a less traveled way instead of going through all the quaint little towns inbetween. There was a big accident with a car completely overturned. As I rerouted myself I kept wondering what the driver had been doing to end up that way at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I thought about my sons driving late at night when it is far more dangerous. I also considered the heavy traffic there always is in our area. It is frustrating.

My rerouting took me smack dab in the middle of one of our cute, nearby historic towns having their Saturday a.m. outdoor market. So another reroute. Then more slow, busy traffic on the exact route I'd hoped to avoid. As we drove, my youngest proceeded to tell me everything that is wrong with me as a person and parent. On the stands I was glad to hear that I am not the only parent being treated to this perspective. So there you have it. A mere morning in the day of a life and certainly enough on one's plate to deal with.

But then there is the other stuff of life that exists along with all the ordinary dealings. Bring out the big guns here. Unemployment, financial issues, kids venturing off to college for the first time or kids in their Senior year of high school. For me the big stuff now involves Sam losing his job for the second time in two years. They are closing the retail store he manages. We were in the middle of getting a home together and have of course had to cancel the contract - the closing was supposed to be 7/29.

I haven't written about the home situation, I suppose I did not want to tempt fate. But fate was tempted anyway. The past month I have been on pins and needles and doing a fair amount of emotional eating (not good) waiting to see how Sam's job would pan out. There had been hope that he'd be transferred to another local location but he was pretty much just jacked around by the corporate bigwigs - getting put off and not given any answers.

There it is again. What haunts me so much - the not knowing, and the uncertainty. Eventually one can only take so much of it. I am sad, disappointed, feeling like every time I take a risk and put myself out there I get burned. I was the one who put down the earnest money and it is hard to lose money when you don't have much in the first place. The house was truly a dream home for me - built in 1895 and completely redone with a gourmet kitchen, a loft and tons of room for my antiques. I was so looking forward to getting them out of storage and into a home that would do them justice.

Now I have a morose guy on my hands upset with me for not going to visit him during this crisis. But I've put him off because we had the American Idol trip and next week will be gone for two days at my son's Freshman College Orientation. I feel like I have to focus on my sons, getting one safely off to college and launching the other into his Senior year. Both boys work and are out and about with friends every day. My oldest just went to Milwaukee to see Katy Perry. I don't like being away from them on weekends, 3 1/2 hours away. I truly feel my job and attention should be centered on my kids (and myself - the emotional eating is not healthy).

So into all these elements of life is the only parent card and the loyalty and responsibility I feel toward my sons. Most people don't get the reality of having to be "it" 24/7 and what that does to you. Sam believes my sons are old enough to be on their own so I get his demands conflicting with how I want/need to parent.

Deep down, sad as this is to say, I also just don't have the energy anymore to take on someone else's issues on top of mine. I'm barely handling my own life. I don't have it in me anymore. It truly is what it is. I can't pretend to be strong when I'm not. It makes me say again that lots of loss doesn't necessarily mean we'll grow stronger. Sometimes we just grow more weary and dismayed.

I've dealt with enough instability and the unknown. Where will Sam end up? He may move to Minnesota to be closer to his son but then we'll be two states apart for the next year (he doesn't want to move in with me for the next year and I am sad about that - he thinks the apartment is too cramped. But then I get upset that it is good enough for my sons and I but not Sam and we don't want to go there now).

It has surprisingly helped me to get this all out after being bottled up for so long. I am trying to refocus on little things. Downsizing, so when I can move after my youngest graduates (just 10 months away!) I'll be ready to pack more lightly. I find tremendous peace on my Wednesday antiquing trips out to the country and I know that in 10 months we'll be moving SOMEWHERE out of the Chicago area. I am so ready - it is time to move on. The cost of living is too high for someone in my situation, just the gas prices alone are the highest in the country and my apartment rent is more than half my monthly pension check. I am tired of scrimping to the bone. So I am happy thinking forward to a new life.

I am building up a little collection of vintage pottery - all the pieces cost $5.00 or so and that interest is something that can help me keep going in the months ahead. The upcoming trip to my son's rural college town is another opportunity to check out a new community although I don't think he'd be thrilled with my moving there. But who knows? We're not a typical family unit in the first place, maybe he'd be okay with it. And I could go back to school for my doctorate as a townee (sp?).

Today was the first in so many where I thought about knitting - I've been so down that knitting has seemed a chore rather than a joy as it usually is to me. But I am now planning to make two leaf scarves for Fall and that is providing me with some inspiration and hope.

I just basically want an easier and less stressful life. I had thought that was going to happen with the house and Sam but life has thrown another curve ball. I hate the unknown future and the lack of security I so need. But for now all I can do is to focus on my sons, my knitting and this apartment because it is what exists right now. To wrap up this post, I do envy those marrieds sitting on the baseball stands with me this morning. To constantly have to ride the roller coaster of life on one's own is a big drag. The little inclines can be tough enough and then there are those really steep ones that follow. I have found that the balancing of life's ups and downs on one's own to be one of the most difficult aspects of widowhood.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wisdom From the Arch

I fell in love with St. Louis. It is a clean, pretty city, very easy to travel in. After living in the Chicago area all my life, the traffic there was nothing! Lots of pretty plants, flowers and parks. I felt safe.

While visiting the Arch, we spent some time in the gift store looking at the books. I was captivated by the large number of diary accounts from women who'd gone West. Part of me knows I'd have made a lousy pioneer. Think about how rustic life was back then. I can't get through a day without showering. Back then they only washed up once a week if that. And how would I live without some makeup? Good thing I'm living now though of course modern life brings on a different set of difficulties.

I love the whole symbolism of the Arch. That it is a tribute to those who went Westward despite the dangers and passed through St. Louis as the gateway to a new life. The shape of the Arch is derived from the bridge that was built over the river because St. Louis was missing out on much needed trade to Chicago because they were cut off from trade routes. The designer of the bridge had never built one before and used arches in the construction. Even today, bridges follow his structural design.

Even way back then, men and women advertised for mates in the personals. But I saw that most advertising were widows, usually with a child or two. They were willing to travel Westward for another chance at marriage. This just confirms my belief that there is something inside us that seeks companionship on an imtimate level.

One of the diary accounts I was leafing through ended with this: the authour was at the end of her life somewhere on the West coast. She had lived as a rancher admitting that her life at times had been very hard. But she added, a life without challenges didn't seem to her to be as full when compared to an easier life when everything always went well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Grief vs. Restructuring

This may be the most important post I ever write on this blog. I'm reading the new grief book that has been in the news, Ruth Davis Konigsberg's, "The Truth About Grief." Basically, the author asserts that new research, of which there is not a whole lot, points to the fact that "most" people suffering a loss can "get through it" in the course of six months to a year without extensive therapy, endless blogging or "walking into the pain." I won't dispute this assertion. In my case, the day my husband died I knew he was gone. I did mourn for him but never longed for him after his death because I knew he was gone. So why have I resorted to blogging and detailing my life as a widow?

This book in one small paragraph mentions the "restructuring" that widows and widowers have to go through after the death of their spouse. This involves creating new lives as singles, only parenting if there are kids, creating new identities, having to learn new skills, handling new tasks, dating again and so on. This is all referred to as restructuring. I have called it secondary grief losses in previous posts but I think restructuring is a far more descriptive term.

I think what happens is that most people do probably get through the grieving portion of a loss but then get tripped up on the restructuring part. At least that is how I'd describe it in my life. I really have had a challenging time in picking up the pieces and going forward. My restructuring skills haven't been that strong and dealing with financial issues stemming from a recession and more loss from failed relationships hasn't helped.

So some people may see my struggling as grief but I do believe that has long passed and what is really at issue is the fact that I've just had a tough time living and raising my sons on my own. Just one small paragraph is a book. Funny, when I first went to therapy it had nothing to do with grieving for my husband but figuring out what I was going to do with my job - whether to quit because the hours were unsuitable for my life as an only parent.

Anyway, that is my take on it. And I guess holding this perspective I'd hope that there may be more emphasis on how to help people like me better handle the restructuring aspect of widowhood because so many years later I'm still in the thick of it with not a whole lot of light at the end of the tunnel. I keep looking for that light though...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

This photo was taken on one of my antiquing trips out into the countryside. I stop and take photos of anything that catches my eye. What a cool sculpture!

My boys are in Lake Geneva, which is a lovely resort town on the Illinois/Wisconsin line with their older brother and his wife, whose family has a lakehouse there. Lucky them! They went tubing this a.m. and will be boating. I will soon go out to my girlfriend's annual July 4th BBQ. She has had it for years and I am fortunate to have a place to relax, eat tasty food and celebrate.

There will be grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, brats, various chips and fruit salad. I am contributing potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, cheery and blueberry cobblers with ice cream. AND there will be enough leftovers for when the boys get home!

I hope everyone reading has good food to eat and a chance to put your feet up and relax. Hopefully, you'll spend some time with friends and/or family. Really, in the end, this is what truly matters - food. family/friends, and the opportunity to enjoy some downtime after putting in a rewarding week of work be it at home or after punching a time clock. Fancy things come way down on the list.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

St. Louis Road Trip

The boys and I took a short road trip to St. Louis this past weekend, culminating with a tryout for American Idol on Tuesday for my oldest. I have just gotten to the point where I feel like going and doing things for the pure heck of it. No, my son didn't make it on to the finals but we weren't anticipating he would. We did it for the adventure, the experience and in hopes of him conncenting with people in the industry - not to mention, it gave us an excuse to finally go on a much-needed vacation, as it has been eight years for us without one.

My son was complimented whenever he sang, even by the Idol judges. He organized nightly sing-a-alongs at our hotel where the kids competing sang for the guests during Happy Hour. He also helped set-up the group to sing in the line while waiting to go in for the auditions - that was at 5 a.m., making it onto the local news and being taped by the Idol crew. I received some compliments by fellow moms about my two boys - how nice, well-mannered, handsome, friendly, good kids they are.

In just two days we went to the Arch, the zoo and a baseball game. Alot seen and done. It just was the tip of the iceberg for me. Now I realize that we need to make time in the future for these get-aways, even if they are local.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," was the phrase that kept repeating in my mind during this trip. How many people can say they've been to an American Idol audition? I should add, that it is nothing like what ends up being seen on t.v. - all very staged and set up but still a neat experience. None of the 45 kids staying in our hotel made it forward, and I'd have to say most were extrodinary singers. I told my son that the majority of kids there were ones with good voices singing cover songs. But my son is composing instrumental and vocal pieces and has enough material to get a CD out right now. Every opportunity is another step along the way.

I even met a nice mom from Texas and she and I hung out together. That was unexpected but nice. I hope we can stay in touch. We've already received an offer from her to visit.

So all in all a great experience but tiring. At the Arch I started to cry seeing all the families together and remembering how much my late husband enjoyed traveling. He would have loved to have been on that trip with us. I realized that since we've never been on a vacation before that this reaction has been slow in coming - almost eight years after his death. So I think that sometimes it can take us longer to pass through all the avenues of loss because we've managed to bypass that exit. And then we do drive down that avenue and even the passage of time provides no buffer.

My husband and I did so much traveling and whenever I got back I'd be so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to stetch my wings and viewpoint. Staying in our little neck of the woods the past years has resulted in my being somewhat stagnant. Meeting new people and seeing new places and things is a way to grow and expand ourselves. I can see how I've hidden away in this very insulating community out of fear and sadness. Even with my boys being older it was hard for me to take responsibility on my own for this short trip and get us all packed, and out, etc. It might be easier to stay put and live with the status quo but I can't do that anymore. And I'm glad my son is of the same nature, fighting back nerves and dealing with disappointment to take a chance and audition for Idol.