Monday, November 28, 2011

My Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Thursday

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Defined by Widowhood

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sick of Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Half Price Holidays

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everyone Has Their Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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