Saturday, December 14, 2013

100 Things about me

2012 concrete sculpture, my first and only, so far.
I finally found a decent reason to write again, though that's for you to judge.  I read a list titled "100 Things about Me" on another blog.  I thought, 'Here's an opportunity to take stock of my past, present and future".  After all, this blog is entitled "Post Widowhood: [Building] from the Ground Up". 

Actually, I had no idea making this list would take nearly a month, but it has.  It's morphed from soap box to confessional to revelation to taking stock to manifesto.  It's got a bit of all these.  Perhaps this list belongs in a therapist's office.  Heck, read it.  I truly hope you enjoy reading it.  But, more important, I hope you make a list about yourself.  You may discover the very special person within that body you inhabit.

"Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world."   Arthur Schopenhauer

100 things about me 
  1. I was born on April Fool's Day
  2. I cannot tell a joke to save my life
  3. In my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up - a famous artist
  4. You have never heard of me because I did not grow up to be a famous artist
  5. As a kid, my birthdays came complete with an April Fool's joke, like the birthday cake that was really a box covered in frosting
  6. My Dad still lives in the house where he and my mother raised us.  He's 100 years old
  7. I feel so blessed to have grown up where I did, in New England
  8. I was a program girl at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home from age 12 to 18
  9. Dressing up in a long gown and white gloves, handing out programs to the sophisticated people from New York and Boston and God knows where, who loved classical music as much as I do, was such a treat
  10. Mother was a classy lady, smart and fashionable, who worked in D.C. for the government during WWII
  11. She would get drunk and tell me of the wonderful life she lived before she married and had children
  12. She inspired me to move to New York City, where she had once lived
  13. My mother asked two simple things of her children - unquestioned obedience, and appreciation
  14. Unfortunately, only one of her children was well behaved and appreciative, and it wasn't me
  15. I am the youngest of four siblings, by a noticeable gap
  16. I was born quite by accident, my Mother told me
  17. I was born quite cross eyed and was 29 years old before I could see using both eyes
  18. I did not fear the bullies at school; it was the bullies at home that terrified me
  19. My siblings and I are now great friends and my mother is in a better place
  20. I am grateful my childhood home had no TV; it did have a piano
  21. I convinced my mother to let me take piano lessons when I was 5 years old
  22. I played the processional march for my 6th grade graduation
  23. That piano awakened my deepest longing - to create graceful, passionate work that could reach out in love to others
  24. My drawing skill, though, made people happy and appreciative
  25. As a teenager my poor mother got the brunt of my inner rebel
  26. I played hooky, drank, took drugs, had sex, and shoplifted
  27. I stopped misbehaving by age 20; drugs and all were clouding my judgment
  28. Besides, I had something to prove to my family: I wasn't an April fool
  29. My eyes are blue green
  30. My favorite color is blue green
  31. My hair was blonde and has come full circle
  32. I relate well to cats - cats live life on their own terms except when they're hungry or need affection
  33. I adopted two cats, Nip 'n Tux, rather than live completely alone eight years ago
  34. I have been confiding my thoughts in 'for my eyes only' journals for just about my whole life
  35. My journals have seen me through the normal existential angst, plus widow's grief, and two deep depressions
  36. Several revelations have rocked my world - I am loved by God;  pleasure is a virtue, not a hedonistic sin; Life is to be trusted with our unconditional "Yes"; Life is not to be confused with circumstances;  my own need for emotional support is legitimate; I withhold from myself what I most need: appreciation, and it's time to stop staunching its flow
  37. I was widowed 9 days after my 52nd birthday
  38. These last eight years are the first time in my life I've lived alone
  39. I lost my best friend when my husband died, but have made a new very good one
  40. My social circle shrank to include only my family and a couple friends during the height of 24/7 caregiving and many years afterwards
  41. I am learning how to make friends all over again, and I have my share of flops
  42. I am learning who I am, and I have plenty of time and room to do so 
  43. Writing this blog has allowed me to reveal the woman behind my quiet exterior
  44. Though my heart's message to one and all is "Life's an embrace!"  "Let your cup runneth over!" actually expressing it openly is something I only do with written, visual or physical language
  45. I'm not a talker, and as hard as I try, sharing doesn't come easily
  46. Ever since my fingers first touched piano keys, maybe at 2 years old, classical music has provided these messages to me  "You are important" "Let your love show"
  47. I had a crush on Jim Morrison of the Doors when I was a teen, and I still love his song "Come on, baby, light my fire"
  48. Blue jeans have been my clothing of choice since high school
  49. I bartended in a speakeasy at my first boyfriend's college dorm when I was 17
  50. I hitch hiked as a teen
  51. I made the mistake of hitch hiking in Boston, but jumped out at a stoplight
  52. I lived one summer with a young man, a hippie, when I was 20 
  53. I took a year off from college in Boston to grow up and get my act together
  54. I worked at a needlepoint design studio overlooking the Boston Public Gardens, and designed a couple needlepoint pillows for the Boston Symphony Orchestra
  55. I attended three colleges in order to try different places to live
  56. I finished up college in New York City and lived there for 12 years
  57. One of my professors was Maurice Sendak
  58. I sketched for a living my entire adult life 
  59. I am left handed and right brained; logical, linear thinking actually feels convoluted; it's quite difficult to sort memories out sequentially in order to tell stories
  60. I took an I.Q. test in my thirties. I feared I was dumb because words don't flow from my brain to my mouth very easily 
  61. To my complete surprise, I'm not
  62. My late husband didn't believe for a minute that I was dumb; just the opposite
  63. I cannot go through a day without greeting someone with a smile, and I love making someone smile
  64. I find body language more honest and revealing than spoken language
  65. Until I was age 44, I believed that intelligence was a higher calling than any other and that people who know the most are at the top of the heap
  66. I might not have been dumb, but I was an idiot  
  67. I am a sensory person;  I live and breathe by the touch of air on my cheek, water on my body, snowflakes on my tongue, the strength and grace in my body, almost everything my fingertips feel
  68. I live and breathe by the quiet stillness of night, the rushing wind, the conversations of birds and squirrels and cats and Katydids and Spring Peeper tree frogs and Cicadas
  69. I live and breath by the slow pink creep of dawn, the pelting droplets of rain on the pond, the arch of the Great Blue Heron's head, the twinkling stars, the color of tropical sea and flowers, the swell of waves; my list is endless
  70. The inner joy I feel when two lovers have a conversation, without a word being said, is something I hope to experience again 
  71. The inner joy I feel when someone reads what I'm saying here, or 'reads' what I'm saying with my visual language is the inner joy I imagine some people feel when they hold conversations
  72. My gardens are my works of art
  73. One has to walk through them to experience them; they are my gift and my embrace to you
  74. Two dimensional artwork interests me less than it used to, both producing it and viewing it 
  75. My last full time job was in advertising on Madison Avenue, 34 years ago
  76. 34 years ago, at age 26, I started my own freelance illustration business in that industry
  77. One of my favorite clients was Toy R Us; another was Purina
  78. I retired when my late husband took early retirement
  79. I had deadline nightmares for years afterwards
  80. I never missed a deadline
  81. I danced at Studio 54 when Andy Warhol hung out there
  82. I lived in Greenwich Village
  83. I exhibited once in a gallery there; nothing sold
  84. I went contra dancing most Friday evenings, in the village
  85. I walked two miles to eat breakfast in the Empire State building almost every day
  86. I went to baseball games at Yankee and Shea Stadiums
  87. I moved out of my city apartment into a house in the suburbs when I married at age 32
  88. I was terrified I wouldn't relate to most Moms and families here in the suburbs, and unfortunately I don't
  89. I've lived in the same house on a wooded acre with a pond for 27 years, just 50 miles from New York City
  90. It's where my heart is; it's where I belong, for now
  91. These last eight years I've learned how to fix a sump pump, run a lawnmower, a snow blower and a generator, hang wall paper, manage finances, generally keep my computers running, do basic carpentry and electrical work
  92. I could not manage without my right hand man, a carpenter I met by chance (?) at my city's recycling center
  93. I have traveled round the world, to 5 countries on my own in the last 8 years
  94. I have yet to enjoy cooking for one on a regular basis
  95. My refrigerator is so stuffed you cannot see the back
  96. I took up bicycling when I was 53, running when I was 57, and swimming when I was 58
  97. During Hurricane Irene in 2011, I bailed water from my basement for 32 hours straight, and saved my belongings
  98. I've pretty much learned to take basement floods and blackouts and blizzards in stride, or else I'd move
  99. For me, the 'gift' of difficult times, when I'm discouraged and lonely, is learning that happiness is truly an inside job
  100. These days I wear a bracelet on my wrist that says "Y'NEVANO"  (You never know)

Me, second from left, wearing the eye patch.  Not a happy day

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Your widow and widower story needs to be known

Your life was fractured by his, or her death.  Now you've got something left - YOU!  Your story about yourself without him or her is a story I would like to know.  Who are you now?  Who are you becoming?   Are you entertaining ideas about something you've wanted to try?  I have much in common with you.  I will certainly find your different outlook stimulating.  I've yet to read or hear anyone's story of recovery from loss that is simple.  Recovery from any loss is never 'simple'.  If we present it to someone as 'simple', are we telling the truth?

Tell only the truth.   That's what I need to see and hear.  Don't show me the game face you're wearing.   Don't feed me regurgitated advice and platitudes.  We all recognize truth, don't we?  It's in our soul, needing to come out to a warm welcome.  Who am I to turn down Life's invitation to me?

Write, talk, paint, dance, or whatever.  Let me, let whoever meets you, experience what's real in you.  Sure, 'real' is new.  It's unsteady.  It gains its footing and its strength the more we use it. 

I'm writing less and less now, since little comes up in my life that is relevant to widowhood.  My metamorphous through that identity crisis forced me to be sole gatekeeper, sole instigator, sole manager, sole lover.   I'd be lying if I said I've never been happier.  But I have my bearings.  Nowadays, if somebody asks for a label to describe myself, I answer 'retired' rather than 'widowed'.   Perhaps neither label is relevant in today's culture of couples, kids and careers, but 'retired' sure puts a smile on my face.

I'm phasing out; perhaps it's your time to phase in.  Please share a link to your blog in the comment section.  I would love to read what's happening in your life. I'm sure others would, too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A BIG THANK YOU to my Caregivers

I'm behaving myself.   Promise.

It's no piece of cake caring for a one armed gal who wants you to be her right arm.  But that's what I've needed this past month.  The surgeon reattached two detached rotator cuff tendons and shaved off bone spurs.  Surgery was a breeze - slept through it.  First week after was a little tougher.  Nowadays I just deal with the inconveniences, like typing with one hand, one finger actually. And Physical Therapy.

I wasn't in the caregiver's seat during this ordeal.  A lot of we widows remember that.  How different the view is from the caregivee's seat.  Which is worse?  IMHO, it's a lot easier to be the caregivee, even if it's a tad painful and disorienting.   Caregiving, good caregiving, is exhausting.  Given that this was only shoulder surgery, survival was never in question.  So it was exhausting without the grief.  Right, guys? God bless you for making my surgery and recuperation possible.  I've no idea what your opinion of the whole ordeal is.  Maybe you'll hit the comment section in this post.  :-)

Four people stayed with me this past month: my boyfriend, my brother, my sister, and her husband.  Incredible, wonderful people with ideas of their own of what I needed.  Imagine that.
See my recent post: 

Eight years into widowhood, I'm confident my ideas are good, great even.   However, their ideas were just as good.  Great even.  Sure enough, I have this itty bitty trait of only seeing things one way - mine.  I am so much better off for their ideas and help. 

One beautiful development came out of this past month: a 'new' breakfast room.  For years, my view into my neighbor's dumpy yard has been so ugly that I've kept my shades drawn on this side of my kitchen.  Too bad, because I have a wall of windows there. But then in May, this very neighbor questioned the location of a fence I wanted to build, to at least block out some of his debris.  The best way to settle this 'confusion' was with a property survey, and I hired a Surveyor.  Well, Christmas came in June, this year.  Not only did I learn that my property line was yonder, well past his old cars and bright orange pylons and trash, I learned that I could build a privacy fence and keep my lovely lattice where it is.  Oh, Joy!

Thanks to my caregivers I secured City Hall's approval to install a 190 foot privacy fence.  This of course spelled the end for that fellow's old cars and debris, on my land at least.  And inside, we finally raised the shades on that wall of windows once my caregivers removed excess furniture and kitchenware.

My view now?  My shade garden of Hostas and Boxwoods frame a lovely stone scape, a la Japanese garden, set off against pretty lattice fencing.  

Life is better, and even though everyone's gone now, I can manage well enough with a ride here and there from friends and subsidized transit.  This house feels better.  I and it are better, or good enough.  I need my 'alone' time.  I noticed a growing desperation for time of reflection, not socializing.  During this time, when loving family and friend were here, it slowly dawned on me that I am really well suited for solo life.  True, I'm vulnerable physically.  My ideas aren't always the best.  Yet I revel in my freedom, peace and artistry, of being able to close the door for privacy.  I relish 'what is', that is, a life of me living by myself, in this house.  I don't pine for 'what was' and 'what I still need if I'm to be happy'.   

During this past month a dream of mine evaporated - the one about living with a beloved and walking into my sunset years with him.  I feel sad for its passing.  But like passing seasons, one moment yields to another. 

Once upon a time I hated that I was so bloody young, age 52, when I became a widow.  I was not willing to call coupledom quits.  But  eight years have passed.  I've dated, fallen in love, and been in a long distance relationship now for 10 months.  Now I'm realizing coupledom isn't all it's cracked up to be, for me at age 60.   I know I actually now like, No, NEED to be on my own.  I told my boyfriend about this, early on.  He stayed anyway.  Amazing man.  

I had no idea I'd changed so much until this surgery changed my lifestyle.  Maybe my introversion is coming out big time.  Maybe my sobering realization that no two people see eye to eye, even when they love each other.  It takes years of work to keep a relationship vibrant and happy and I don't want to put this effort in.  Maybe I'm frustrated by my dependence on this bloody sling.  In any case I'm not 52 any more.  My habits and routine are carved deeply into my psyche.  I haven't the patience and the will to climb that mountain of compromise I once clambered up and down with a partner.   I guess with older age comes stiffness.  

To my caregivers 

Your help and patience and time was your sacrificial gift to me.  I will return this favor for you.  It's good to  help someone we love.  It's good to step into somebody else's life, and stay, or go, as the Spirit wills.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Help Wanted: caregiver for widow

I knew this day might come.  In my zeal to live to a ripe old age by myself, I pushed my body pretty hard.  I do most of the 'guy' stuff, and frankly, I find great joy in it.  But I found my body's tipping point.  Now I'm in a bind.  I feared this day would come.
I tell myself it's actually a good thing I tore part of my rotator tendon off the bone, and dislocated a bicep tendon.  Now, instead of babying my partially torn rotator cuff, I can get my whole shoulder fixed, and be as good as new.  It'll just take a little time.  Some folks say three months.  Some say a year.  In any case I will follow my Doctor's orders to a T and learn how to do things one handed.

Long ago, I hobbled around on crutches for 6 weeks in New York City, my home at the time.   No big deal.   Life in the country has more advantages for me now, but public transit isn't one of them.   Lucky for me, the man I love, who lives five hours away and leads a busy life, is staying with me for 21 days.   My sister and brother will stay with me for another 10 days.   After that, I fear that if I lean on my friends and neighbors for transportation and errands, their goodwill will wear thin pretty fast.  That would be wretched.  I've applied for subsidized transportation for the handicapped, and senior transit for shopping and light errands.  Maybe it will come through.  And, I could drive myself around with one arm, right?  It's only for what  - two months?  Three months?  This would be easier in the City.

This is when it comes to me.  Our medical system that doesn't favor the patient who doesn't have a live in caregiver.  I've five years to go before Medicare kicks in.  In the meantime, I believe my Health Insurance Company should be delighted to provide home health care for me instead of putting me up in a rehabilitation center.  Working on that angle.

I'm bloody fortunate.  This handicap is temporary.  I can take time off from life to recuperate.  Full time caregivers in my neck of the woods cost $250 a day.   Well, I spent my life building a nest egg and if I have to I will spend it on this. 

Evidently,  man or woman is not meant to live alone.   Single, widowed, divorced, all the same.    Elective surgery is tough without someone who's got your back.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Fine Line: being loved -- being catered to

That's my honey, a few days before he died.  People mistook him for my father; cancer was so hard on him.  This is the only time I've published a picture of the two of us.  This blog, after all, is about life after widowhood.  But somehow, this seems like the time to show the chapter of my life that closed eight years ago. 
I've moved on.  But a book review I read today got me thinking, and I'm a little frustrated.  This book is supposed to be a primer for all potential caregivers.  The idea is:  take your cue about how to behave toward a sick person from that sick person.  I guess I want to tell you what I learned from my experience caring for a very very sick person for what seemed like an eternity.  Take your cue about how to behave from the sick person?  Well, that depends on the personality of the person who's sick.  Pain and fear and chemo make their mark on the personality.  I don't know about you, but I regress to the personality of a child when I'm sick.   Everything becomes about me, me, ME, even if cloaked in adult language.  Sure, loving sacrifice on the part of the caregiver is necessary.  But should the one who is 'needier' call the shots?    
Which reminds me - How much is a widow like a sick person?   

I know the book isn't about taking cues from a widow, but it does relate to us.  How many times would I have liked people to take their cues from me on how to help me?   This widow would have  milked it.  The world, fortunately, has not obliged my cues.  I am certainly better off for learning to supply for myself what I was convinced I needed from others.  I still want propping up, but do I need it?

Back to the original subject, from the perspective of a caregiver and sick person.  Right now I'm facing rotator cuff surgery, so this is sort of pertinent.

Should we take cues from injured or ill people on how to treat him or her? 

Yes and No.  My experience is, when I'm in crisis, I lose my ability to see alternatives, and this is when I really need other people's perspectives.  I discount them at my peril.  Sure I need a little of what I ask for.  I'd like people to cut me a little slack for my nearsightedness and self absorption.  But please, poke me if I take myself too seriously.  Don't treat me with kid gloves when I'm not a kid.  I keep my dignity to the degree I respect your dignity.

Now, if another person we love is actually dying, does this equation change?  Is this finally the time to take one's cues from them?  I don't know the answer to this one.  I wrestled with this for three long years, the minute we got word that my husband's cancer was terminal.   This was my answer.  To the best of my ability I let him own the show.  After all, he was the one dying.  I dropped what I was doing.   I took cues from him about what he needed and tried in every way to offer it to him.   After all, I wanted him to live.  We succeeded in turning a few months into three years.    My sacrifice on his behalf was sincere, but it was also my recipe for burnout, not to mention resentment.   I finally decided that since I'd be the one who would go on living, I needed to lighten up, and stop catering completely to him.  We loved.  We cried.  We laughed.  We said good bye.  We shared the sacrifice.

Below are this recently published book's cues on how to be a friend to someone who is facing cancer. 
  • Don't talk about cancer in military terms, about it being a battle
  • Don't talk about someone else who has been through something similar and made it out O.K. 
  • Don't say "I know what you're going through" unless you actually do. 
  • Don't tell your friend she looks great when she looks anything but. 
  • Don't ask "How are you, really?"  as it prompts all sorts of unwelcome thoughts.
I have followed little of the advice above.  Here's my take on loving someone through injury, illness and dying, point by point.
  • Fighting cancer is sometimes a war with many battles.  Talk about it this way if you want.  Cancer, like war, may require years of hardship punctuated by crisis and critical effort.  It takes courage and cooperation.   Speaking of it in these terms may instill dignity into the scary, shapeless, open ended experience of cancer. 
  • Do talk of something similar, but listen to the sick person's story, too.  Maybe hope can be drawn from others who have made it through.
  • If a person says "I know what you're going through",  they may be trying to build a bridge to us the only way they know how.  Is this bad?  Finding common ground even if our experience is different is humbling, but common ground connects us.  After all, we all suffer one way or another in life, don't we?
  • A friend can indeed look great, and need to hear it, because what is beautiful is what's in his or her heart, not outside.
  • Ask how they're doing, if you're interested.  In my experience, too few people ask how you are, really.  Maybe, if they ask, they will be there for you, really, when you need them.

Does this make sense to you?

Friday, May 24, 2013

I need more Goodbyes (No. this isn't a joke)

Keep saying Good Bye.  This is what someone, not a widow, advised me to do long ago.   Say more Good Byes.   Say Good Bye to his things.   She said that making room in my house was akin to making room in my heart for others.   Except that, 'Hello?!?', my widow's heart was already hopelessly empty.    Why was I going to underline the fact by emptying my house?    Yet I made the hundreds of donations to the dump and the library and the thrift shops.   Each new empty space I created underscored the fact that I was alone, beyond anybody caring about how I began or ended my days, about how I felt about things, about what I wanted for dinner.   Well, the spaces I created didn't stay empty long.     They still don't.

What I really need is someone who cares how I begin and end my days.    A confidant.   A BFF.  Some Moms have tight relationships with their kids and others, who want to hear the details of their day.  I didn't want to ask my step kids to be my confidants, and I didn't want to drive away friends with chatter only husbands, good husbands, can entertain.  I used my journal to record my thoughts, and finally this blog.

Much to my surprise, a confidant has appeared.  I've mentioned him before.  And this incredible BFF makes Good Byes doable, even purposeful.   But I have to ask: Which came first?  Making room in the house, then in my heart?   Making room in my heart, then in my house? 

I believe we never dangle all alone in space, beyond God's care and concern. Ideally, people are the 'boots on the ground' experience of God's love for each other.   But that's not how I experienced widowhood.  My husband's boots had fallen silent.  Other boots would come, help for a while, then depart.  Silence.  I felt very unappealing.   It was a very very long time before I pulled my own boots on and started walking.  That's me in the picture above, before I found my boots. 

Wouldn't you know, at this point boots on another pair of feet ambled in.  They have stayed awhile.  I'm making room for this dude.

Make room for others.  Because they're waiting, in anticipation and pleasure, to meet you. 

If I keep this up, I'll have a life and space in my house for him.

Monday, April 22, 2013

When Death leaves you in the Lurch


First, You Cry.  Remember that book from the 1970s?  In it, Betty Rollin wrote of her transformative experience with breast cancer.

I stumbled on a more recent book of hers: Here's the Bright Side: of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce, and Other Bum Raps , published in 2007.   I'd say widowhood qualifies as a bum rap, wouldn't you?  Death left us in the lurch.  No way around it.

There is a bright side. I couldn't say this better, so I'll quote a large portion of her book.  For all newer widows reading, remember - I've been at this eight years.  Eight years.

"I woke up one morning and realized I was happy. This struck me as weird. Not that I didn't have all kinds of things to be happy about—love, work, good health, enough money, the usual happy-making stuff. The weird part is, when I thought about it, I realized that the source of my happiness was, of all things, cancer—that cancer had everything to do with how good the good parts of my life were.

When I thought about it more—and looked into it and started talking to other people—survivors, not only of cancer but of various other of life's infinite variety of bum raps—failure, divorce, illnesses and reversals of all kinds, death of a spouse, and so on—it turned out I was not alone. It turns out there is often—it seems very often—an astonishingly bright side within darkness. People more than survive bum raps: they often thrive on them; they wind up stronger, livelier, happier; they wake up to new insights and new people and do better with the people around them who are not new. In short, they often wind up ahead. There are even studies, scientific studies (!) that show that people often say they have benefited from the terrible things that have happened to them.

Coping well is part of this phenomenon, but there's more to it than that. Within each form of misery, there seems to be something of worth, a hidden prize waiting to be found. Sometimes it's found right away, sometimes not: a painful, debilitating divorce or widowhood can lead, gradually, to a new tranquility within and without. (Not to mention the possible emergence of a swell new mate. Have you ever encountered the particularly dipsy-doodle joy of a newly married widow or widower? A person who thought love was forever buried with a deceased mate, but by golly, here it is again!) "


Thank you, Betty Rollin, for your eloquence. 
Widowhood, you left me in the lurch for a while, but you have given me new life.  I haven't had a sign of grief now, in what, weeks.  I'm happy. Wow.  I got to discover these ~

Faith in God and His/Her Provision
 Doing what needs to be done 'well enough' is well, enough

A fighting spirit,  mine, and yours is there when I need it
A welcoming heart and open mind is all Life asks
Who would've thought, that terrible day death changed the landscape, that the struggle would pay off so handsomely?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Circuit switches, meters, and blind spots

Aah.  That welcome "duh" moment.

I'm not sure which comes first.  The circuit switches, the meter, or the blind spot?  If there's one thing widowhood has taught me, it's that other widows and other people are incredibly smart, and I'd best listen to them.  And this: God is incredibly smart, and I'd best listen to Him or Her.  My own risk-reward meter is off.   I draw the wrong conclusions.  About me, about you, about so much.  I need light bulb moments, when a circuit switches on.  

I had that  "aHa!" moment, followed by this "Well....duh" moment recently.  I'm getting older.  Heck, I just turned 60.  The bod isn't up to some tasks I enthusiastically pitch it into.  I feel and look (to myself) like I'm in my thirties, but the bod says "I'm gonna cost ya if you do this".     Heck.  What's a little pain after you do something?  Pain is weakness leaving the body!  Unless it's not leaving the body.
Well, after a couple years unsuccessfully rehabbing my shoulders, I finally realize I'm falling apart.   "aHa!"   After that, I realize that my physical therapists really do have my best interests at heart and aren't here to make my life miserable by giving me an impossible number of stretches and exercises to do every day.   "Well....duh" 

Don't you just love denial?  

What does this have to do with widowhood?  Unfortunately, a lot.  I've learned more during widowhood after realizing how dumb I am, than I have proving how smart and competent I am.  New situations feel scarier than they are.  The bully called "death" is gone, and still I'm hyper vigilant.  Former caregivers like me have trouble switching 'vigilance' off.  

Here goes. I'm giving up, or trying to, my lingering guardedness.  Eight years have gone by since I was on call in life and death situations.  The landscape has changed.  I adore the new man in my life.  So...Time to say "Cool it and relax, my love. The sky isn't going to fall in.  Besides, I can handle the sky falling in".   It's time to let pleasure be in all the moments it can be, not just in the stolen ones, with a glass of wine or restaurant meal.  Or in moments off the grid in my garden or on vacation or at a ballgame.

It's time.  Others have my best interests at heart. I can relax.

Have you been nudged to see things a different way?  How has this been for you?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I can start where?

Jules Feiffer  1973

I first saw this cartoon in 1973, and saved it.   I was then  on my way into my big bright future, scared and hopeful.  One thing I liked about this cartoon is its emphasis on facing fear and confusion with determination and humility.  There's always going to be a door behind us and one in front of us.  Challenge, or opportunity?  That cheery platitude of  "When one door closes, a window opens" hasn't been my experience.  For me, when one door closes the room is pitch black  - Jules Feiffer didn't draw that - and full of stuff.  Scary stuff, mean stuff, intriguing stuff, urgent stuff, nostalgic stuff.  It's all there for me to trip over, in its messy, imprecise self-involved way.   Ever since that husband of mine died, I've been groping my way to one door knob after another.  In each room I enter I smell fresher and fresher air.

Finally, my grief has cleared and I'm midwifing my new life.  I've had a busy month.  Major renewal, and minor upheaval.  My goal has been to get my art studio up and running by my sixth decade, which starts next week.  That studio has been the catch all for 'everything I didn't want to review - not now' for nearly two decades.  Photographs, letters, workshop materials, personal journals, posters, clippings,  books, artwork from my professional career, and artwork I created after that.  I felt lost after I retired, but eventually I stopped missing the career's ego gratification.  I loved my retired life more than working.  Then came the long period of my husband's dying, a time for action, not reflection.  I've no regrets for pushing art aside for that purpose.   Here's what I learned from that.

 "One sees clearly only with the heart.  Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Of course, the door of the room he and I shared slammed shut behind me, and the room I then found myself in, the 'grief' room, taught me how important it is to continue seeing with the heart.  That wasn't a room I wanted to stay stuck in, though.  I turned the knob, and surprise of surprises, entered the room my boyfriend is in.  Now together in pitch darkness, he's helped me find the knob for yet another room.

I'm turning the door knob.  New life.  Cleaning out my art studio is my way of walking through that door.  Everything is out of there except for my favorite books and clippings.  It's a clean slate.  It has a new linoleum floor and new 5' x 5' table.  Soon it will have a new display area.  The guest room has been converted into my art material storage room. Somehow, I managed to squeeze a bed back in there. 

Might I have something in me that needs visual language to express?  I don't know. Why does it feel like this next 'room' will teach me to live with no self-importance, with only my heart?   I'd be one lucky person, wouldn't I?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Am I better off without him?

"Goodness.  I didn't divorce him!  How can you even ask me that?"

But I do ask that.

Am I better off without him?

This whole idea came up when I looked through old files in my art studio yesterday.  I hate to admit it, but some of these files are nearly twenty years old. There are snippets of articles and notes.

I found a note my late husband wrote to me on March 26, 1996.

Dear ____,   What we did last night was devastating, and I'm still angry.  Yet I see you and our union as a blessed gift from a loving God.  I am sad that we hurt each other from our woundedness.  Love, ___

I guess the argument he's referring to was a doozy.  We had rough times in our marriage, especially a six year spell from 1991 to 1997.  Often, during this time, I seriously contemplated this question "Would I be better off without him?"  I stayed on the fence a long time, and some would say circumstances merited my departure.  Then, in 1997, I jumped off that fence toward him, toward us.   Not that circumstances were a lot better.  But, like the pearl which forms around an intrusive grain of sand, we faced what was hurting us and held on together.  We learned.  We grew.  We shed entrenched beliefs that were really harming us.  We had five very very good years beyond 1997.  And when his terminal disease hit in 2002, I unleashed every tool and effort to add months to his life, as did he.  Together we added 36 long months, each a hard won pearl in our strand. 

Am I better off without him?  I'm better off without the pain and daily struggle when times were tough.   Now that my grief is spent and I'm tickled to be alive, I'm better off without the pain and daily struggle his death left me.   And the pearl necklace we created?  It is in my past, in my heart.   Every once in a while I see evidence of it, like this note, which I'll hang on to.

Am I better off without him?  I am better off because of him. 

And, I am better off today because of the help I've received, and because of the choices I make.  Well, not all the choices.  But enough good choices mixed with these have added up.  I am better off than when I first lost him. 

A new strand of pearls is emerging now.  I have to remember that making pearls isn't fun, but it is worthwhile.  Turns out the strand won't be all pearls.  It has diamonds here now, sparkling in today's light.

Am I better off without him?  Difficult question.  I am blessed to have diamonds in my life at present.  I hope I will have more diamonds in that thing called the 'future', but the future has no guarantee.  In any case, I know I can make pearls from grains of sand, and try to do so every day.  If that most terrible grain of sand called death intrudes upon me once again I'll ask for help.  How would we make it through life without each other?

Do you see the day when you will be better off without your late husband?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why aren't you like _____ ?

Does this make you laugh? Cringe? Stop listening? Want to rant?

In my last post, I asked for feedback.  On another site, too.  Yes, my psyche has grown stiff, resistant to change.  My heart has scars I need to grow beyond.  Thank you, one and all, for writing me to support and encourage me.  I'm learning to be pliable and resilient, and your hugs help so much.

I've also heard from the well meaning folks who can't resist instructing and comparing me with so and so, who is having a better experience of widowhood, or is experiencing new love after widowhood more completely.  I roll my eyes.  *"Gee,  what an idiot I've been!  I guess God isn't very impressed with me, and wishes He (or She) could have made me more like that person you just pointed out. Gosh, I'm going to learn to be like her!"

*Please note: sarcasm

Yes, I got the memo that I'm loved just the way I am.  I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, on this river of life, with all its rocks, and waterfalls, its smooth sandy bottoms and pools, its forks and dams, its frozen waters and fluid flow.   Now, my challenge is to love the folks who wish I'd see things some other way as well as the folks who give me a vote of confidence.      

Oh, dear.  I, too, have been so guilty to trying to change people.  My pet peeve?  Pessimism.  I get so frustrated by pessimism and want to drum it out of people.  I want to shake them.   "Wake up and smell the roses!" "Look on the bright side!"
Now that I've discovered my own little streak of pessimism, I'm rather happy I can give up this job of cheering others up, because I know better.  Or I know somebody who knows.  Or I know somebody who knows somebody who knows.   Or I know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows.

It's about time I read this poem again.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

Well, I hope this day is good for me, and good for you, and good for somebody you know, and somebody who knows somebody you know, and somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody you know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What am I to do?

I'm torn, confused about my future with a man I love.  Here I sit, talking to myself.   Can you help? 

"Dear self. Be happy.  This is just a fancy way of saying..."

"What do I want to do with the days I have left?"

"Envision life is supporting your happiness".   

"Support for my happiness?" 

"You have a little say in this, you know." 

"Look, I'm happy if the sky isn't falling in. "
"Widowhood happens. You actually have it a lot better than most widows. You got to say good bye." 
"Look in the mirror."
~ ~ ~P ~E ~S ~S ~I ~M ~I ~S ~T ~ ~ ~ 

"Wow.  This post sure is a downer."  
"Life is what happens to you whether you believe in it or not."

"Will life bring me happiness?

"Do you need it to?"

"More than ever."
"Dare to be an optimist."

"But I had this experience."
"Chicken Little"
 "....The sky is not falling?"
"I'm sure I can find a fox who agrees it is."
"Be happy."
 "And when the does sky fall in?"
"Add another acorn to your collection."
 "Look , wise guy.  If an acorn falls far and fast enough it can kill you.  That's what losing a spouse is like."
"Did it?"
"Yes.  It killed part of me."
"Then don't sit under an acorn tree." 
Link to the story of Chicken Little:

Friday, February 8, 2013

A widow dating, with a good book

Dating a Widower , by Abel Keogh.

On the face of it, this book appeals to a very small niche.  But think about this.  Substitute the word 'widow' for 'widower'.  Then turn it around.  "What is it like dating me, a widow?"   The five points in its first chapter inspire me to ask  "Am I really and truly opening my heart, my space, my life, my future to this man I'm now loving?" 

After I, as a widow, started dating again, I discovered Abel Keogh's blog, specifically his "Widower Wednesday" posts.   I read about widowers and girlfriends or new wives.  I read about these women's joys, their heartbreak, frustration, and confusion loving men who had lost their wives.  Were they really now in the center of the widower's heart?  Were there red flags they should consider?  Red flags signalling that the widower isn't ready and willing to make her number one?   Red flags like his keeping photos of his late wife around?

As I dated, I had to ask myself if I prevented myself from enjoying new love.  Was I making unrealistic comparisons from cherry picked memories?  Was I not releasing myself from a commitment that death had already terminated?  And my fear - if I flung myself away from my past, would future love even catch me?  I looked at the photos of my late husband around my house. There I was, dating, and I still displayed his photos.    Red flag.   Nowadays, I have new photos of my boyfriend and me around the house.  Yet, as much as I care, stepping into the future with him sometimes feels 'don't tempt the fates' scary.  When I trust my soul, and realize that merging two lives is a process, my fear is calmed.  I believe I am meeting the criteria for putting my boyfriend first.  But this matters more: Is he feeling this?  Is the ghost of my late husband interfering?

Now, regarding dating in general for widows... I realize many legitimate reasons for dating exist, and a serious relationship isn't necessarily one of them.   But, if loving 'til death do us part' again is the point of our dating, Abel Keogh's thoughts in both his "Widower Wednesday" column and in Dating a Widower 's first chapter may be useful.   Have a look! 

One can link to Dating a Widower's first chapter here:  

Abel Keogh expands upon the five points I quote below in his book.   I insert brackets where I have reversed genders and added a minor variation.
"When it comes to [women] , there are five things about them that affects their behavior after they've lost a spouse.   

 1) [Widows] have an internal need for relationships. 

 2) [Widows] will stay in relationships with [men] they don't love.

 3) [Widows welcome men] they're interested in.  (Here I changed Abel Keogh's words: "Widowers pursue women they're interested in.")

 4) [Women] can only actively love one [man] at a time.

 5) A [widow's] actions speak louder than words."

What do you think?   Are these five things true for widows who hope to love again?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Something is scaring me

the "future"

Today's issues are enough. Don't invite disaster.

Time was, a decade ago, the future held heartwarming scenarios for me.   That was then, before widowhood. This is now.  Now, I'm afraid of counting on the future.  If I put my hand near this flame, I mean, this "future",  I'll not emerge unscathed.   Who of us can?   The 'future' has death written on it, mine and yours.   Why trust its golden lure?   Can it deliver something beautiful and good before it delivers death?   I wish I could have faith.  Instead, after the future took my assurance of tomorrows away with my late husband, I made a truce: I won't tempt it and it won't burn me.  (Like I can stop the future from happening by not dealing with it???)

Except ~ somewhere deep inside I have continued to build a foundation for a future.  Part of me hopes for and relishes the future.  How can I not?  Life, and people, and nature are precious and loving is most natural.  Part of me feels naive if I become enthusiastic about the future.  It's like I'll be Charlie Brown.  Lucy has the football just so.   Just when I really really want to kick it...

What is in front of me?  Is it really the 'future'?  Or is it 'fear'? 

What is it I need to learn? I need help sorting it out.

Have you faith in a bright future?

Monday, January 28, 2013

My self esteem is based on what?

Where are you on your 'widow' journey?  Still calling yourself a widow?  Nearly eight years out,  I'd be in deep do-do if I still identified myself as the gal who lost her one and only beloved.  O.K.  For you 'lucky' widows who had decades with your spouses and are now in later life, you're not in do-do, you're in a bed of roses (I'm joking).  But I may have another half century to manage.  I feel envious of older widows who say their one love was enough for a lifetime.  I planned on getting old and gray with the guy I married.  I was 49 when I found out that wouldn't be.  My own father is still alive and living independently at 99.   I know I should be happy I have good genes but ...

We all got our pink slips, the 'former Mrs' memo.  We were on the high end of the marriage seesaw then.   BAM!  We had to put ice on our sorry behinds and hobble away.

Now, we're 'survivors', but this begs the question, "Are my scars worse than yours?"  Lots of rosy mirrors in this pit. 

We're 'heroines'.  But real heroes don't call themselves heroes.

We're 'big, beautiful babes', but chill out, that's more than strangers need to know.

These identities need to become incidental props on a journey, at least for me, moving on nearly eight years later.

So, in the interest of research, I'm embarking on an experiment.  It's not sexy, it's not a page turner, it's nothing I'm asking any one to join me on.  This is my experiment:  I'm linking my self-esteem to how effectively I say "You're welcome" to me day by day.   To how tender and nurturing I can be to an emerging self who is still blinking in the glare of sunlight off the water.

We know what  squashes our spirit - Stereotypes.  Expectations.  Pulling rank.  We also know what floats our boat.  Love, in its many guises.  We're at the helm.  Choose a helpful and fun crew.  And enjoy the journey.

 Good luck to you, my friends!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Widowhood: Part 2

I've edited this page, and added what I failed to tell you my first post:

Widowhood.  It's like a scarlet "A", only it's a black "W".  Who wants it?  Where does it lead?

Our wedding vows said: "Until death do us part".   I guess one can quibble that we haven't proof "God" directs that show, but let's assume He (or She) does. Why does God sever a wife's obligation and commitment to her husband when he dies?   God's rather intelligent.  

The former 'wife' is given permission to move on.  She is instructed to move on.  Let the past be past, and all that.  Widowhood is a passage, not a destination.  Why then, is it so darn hard?

For me, the term 'widow' felt like a warm blankie the first two years.  I was numb, angry, wretchedly sad, but being a 'widow' would elicit sympathy and that consoled me somewhat.  Following that period, in what I'm calling my 'Widowhood Part 2', widowhood felt less consoling.  More like a corset stuck in 'autotight' mode, slowly crushing me.  Life was just about putting one step in front of the other, never getting a good lungful of air.  I had to free myself from that damn corset!  Was that corset my lingering connection to the man who loved me so much?  I so want to form a genuine new connection with my new circumstances, and want what I have now.

I surprised myself when I wrote in my January 3rd post "I'd finally let him belong to the past."  Was I happy?  Happier.  I guess my job was to put him in the past, to shed that corset, and live free or die inside it.

Now back to my original  writing in this, 'Widowhood, Part 2'.

So, God, I've a new set of wants, since I've been released from my old ones.  What do You think of these?
  • I want to be female. 
  • I want to be pliant and not compliant
  • I want to answer to You
  • I want to pursue creativity
  • I want to pursue wonder
  • I want to be an idiot
  • I want to be valued
  • I want empowerment
  • I want to sink my hands into new soil
  • I want to love
  • I want to connect with the new 'he'
  • I want to see life through other people's eyes
  • I want them to see life through mine
  • I want to be deliberate and not put off life 
  • I want to live outside normal parameters 
  • Outside 'married'
  • Outside 'widow' 
  • Outside 'single'
  • But not outside this big, beautiful 'me'
Have you noticed the stirring of new wants?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Growing out of our old selves

I didn't write this story, and thank who ever did. The sculpture above was created by Elizabeth Ostrander

This story applies to everybody. 

"Along a dusty road in India there sat a beggar who sold cocoons.  A young boy watched him day after day, and the beggar finally beckoned to him.

"Do you know what beauty lies within this ugly chrysalis?  I will give you one so that you might see for yourself.  But you must be careful not to handle the cocoon until the butterfly comes out."

The boy was enchanted with his gift and hurried home to await the butterfly.  He laid the cocoon on the floor and became aware of a curious thing.  The butterfly was beating its fragile wings against the hard wall of the chrysalis until it appeared it would surely perish before it could break the unyielding prison.  Wanting only to help, the boy swiftly pried the cocoon open.

Out flopped a wet, brown, ugly thing which quickly died.

When the beggar discovered what happened, he explained to the boy, "In order for the butterfly's wings to grow strong enough to support him, it is necessary that it beat them against the walls of its cocoon.  Only by this struggle can its wings become beautiful and durable.  When you denied it the struggle, you took away its only chance for survival."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Inserting our Lives

 These are some of the words I've applied to widow:

  • Irrelevant Woman
  • Misplaced Wife
  • Has Been
  • Leftover from a Couple
  • There, There my Dear
  • Misfit
  • Nice Old Lady
  • Threatening Cougar
  • Stray Cat
  • Whiner
  • Loony Little Lady
  • Wallflower
  • Desperado
  • Sage but Sexless Woman
  • Burden
  • Lady in Waiting
  • Cat or Dog Lady
  • Brave Woman Battered by Fate
  • Calamity
  • Infection I better not Catch
  • Histrionic Loony tune
  • Example
  • Charity Case
  • Therapy Client
  • Mystery
  • Inspiration
Instead of feeling anything like these, let's show up and show 'em how it really is

Whatever we were, or are, or are becoming, let's insert ourselves into life.  Maybe this means we've finished rebuilding a life, maybe it means we're still gaining freedom from that master named 'Grief", maybe it means we simply like seeing our own reflection. 

In any case, let's do it on our own terms, not on a 'widow's' terms.

How do you see yourself today?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A - OK.... now

Let's face it, widows.  It's not our fault that we're single.  It's not our fault that we hurt.  Our particular loss is earth shattering.  If someone else understands, hallelujah!  But if they don't, shrug and love them anyway.  Expecting special treatment after say, the first year is silly.  Really...

Widowhood is lonely work.  It's supposed to be.  At the end of the day it's up to us to choose how we will go on.  

Choose life!

Easier said than done, I know.  Next to impossible in the beginning.  Pushing that huge boulder of tasks and grief up the steep, rocky hill of life leaves us wondering if we'll ever get it to the top.  My experience?    People help out.  But they have their own boulders to push.   Leave them be.  

Let them leave us to our own devices.

By golly, pushing that huge boulder up that hill one grisly step at a time made me the woman I am today.   Stronger, fitter, wiser and happier.   We've all been there.  All done the hard part.  Pushing that weight up that rocky slope.  It feels like forever.  Looking back, it wasn't such a long time.  After five years, that boulder got lighter and the ground levelled off.  After six years, no big deal.  At seven years, I was eyeing the open sea, wading in now and again.   Nice.   But I was still looking back.   Stuck and scared.   Where to head completely on my own?   In a world of two's, a bold new course: toward love that has my name, and my name alone, on it.  I don't believe this is selfish, because with that decision joy returned.   Peace, too.   Evidently I was overdue for self love.  And he would have been happy I'd finally let him belong to the past.  

Maybe the difference between the weight of grief and the freedom from it is reclaiming our own power to choose. After all, Choice was something that was stripped from us when death came.

Joy is here for us.

Why did it take me so long?  I'm slow.  Why not sooner?   Well, exactly when is 'sooner'?  Common wisdom says it takes widows five to seven years to move on.   It took me seven.  To others, it looked like I was doing well a lot sooner than I really was. So many of us put on a happy face and actually fool others into thinking we're well, because we're rather private.  Stoic.  Proud.

I decided to take my private angst public, through this blog.  The reason is my belief: God continually offers us gifts, and if I couldn't find the gift in this tragedy, I wasn't looking hard enough.   One year ago yesterday I wrote my first entry.  I posted my efforts, holding myself accountable to my readers to find the gift in my tragedy and move on.   Now I'm considering moving on from this blog.

Like Julian of Norwich, I believe that "All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well".  Why?   Because God is love, and God lives in the present tense.   I can hold the gift of life and be filled.   No longer am I like a bucket so drained of life by grief, and so full of holes no one can console me.  I am healed.  Circumstances could at any time pierce my bucket with more holes.  I hope in the future I can be more resilient.

Here is what I had to do

  • Recognize that I was that empty bucket full of holes, and nobody could fill my emptiness no matter how much love and attention they poured in.
  • Plug the holes in my bucket myself.  Do this by giving up the illusion that all shall be well only if time reverses itself.   Or if only people would be more generous.
  • Fill my bucket with all manner of things - a few old things, but mostly new skills, new attitudes, new friends, new surroundings, new interests.  
  • Share my journey publicly on this blog.
Every day is a challenge.  For everybody.   

Good luck.  God, and Love, is with you. 

P.S. Please don't hesitate to share in my comment section.  I'll write back!