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.