Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friendship. Tears and Tears

A lot has been going on in my life.  I'm building another garden, this one approximately 600 square feet.  Sorry, this picture is lousy, but you get the idea.

Gardening makes for introspection.  I'm doing a lot of both these days, inspired by the Friendship Coach I meet with once a week.  As I wrote last month, my Girlfriend Picker's broken.  Not totally.  I have made a true blue friend or two since my husband died.  But I tend to pick the "it's all about me" women, and that leaves me without the emotional support when I need it.  So last night, when I wasn't sleeping, I started thinking about why the words a fellow blogger used to forgive her abuser (her father) helped me so much.  Here's what they are.

#1. I forgive you [the abuser].  Well, I couldn't tell if this helped, so I went on to the second.

#2. God, please forgive Mom.   O.K.  Now this I could tell helped.  My heart just melted.  A weight just lifted from my shoulders.  I'm still saying this one, and my heart's still melting.

I commented in her blog about this helping, but I want to elaborate here.

I can point to the very incident when my Girlfriend Picker broke, when my feeling of safety with women tore apart.  It was the summer of 1972.  I was back home after my freshman  college year.  Unhappily, I had not made any friends that year, although before that, girlfriends had been part of my life.  But I was afraid to make overtures towards complete strangers.  I was painfully shy.  Why?  I got the bright idea that maybe my Mom's not ever hugging me or telling me she loved me were holding me back.  Maybe she just didn't know I needed these demonstrations of her love.

1972.  The three of us at the dinner table, Mom at one end, my father at the other.  I don't remember if a sister was there.

me: "Mom, you've never hugged me or told me you love me.  Why?"
She stiffens. - (well, I'll try asking more directly)

"Mom, I'd like to know if you love me."
She slowly puts down her fork. - (uh-oh).

"Mom, I'd like to hear you say, just once, that you love me."
The muscles around her eyes and mouth stiffen and she turns to me, mouth set in a straight line.

"Mom, is it really so hard to tell me?  I'm just asking if you've ever loved me."
She says - nothing -.

"Please, I need to know.  I need you to put your arms around me and tell me you love me.  I've never been held or heard this from you"  me, crying now
Her eyes lock on mine, chilling me.

"I'm begging you.  Please tell me you love me!  How can it be this hard?"  my voice rising to a shriek, tears flowing
She's a freaking statue.

"It's such a simple thing to say!"  now I'm down on my knees beside her, reaching my arms up to her to be held
She looks straight through me. 

Dad breaks the silence, saying in a strained voice: "Don't ask your mother that."

Well, I can't remember ever feeling so hurt.  I ran away.  I came back, eventually, because I needed their money to complete my college education.  Emotionally, though, I shut down, toward I guess both parents, though I forgave my Dad immediately.  But my Mom always said I was an accident, and now I understood why she never added with a smile "but a happy accident".

Several days later she took me aside.  She explained in all earnestness that she couldn't say she loved me because my father wouldn't let her.  This was baloney.  My Dad never stopped her from speaking her mind.  Nobody did.  She didn't say "I love you" then, or ever.  In fact she said some pretty nasty things to me as time went on.

Sometimes I wish life came with an instruction manual.  It would say, five terrible losses will inhabit your life, and you don't get to pick which ones and when.  They will come at you before you're strong enough to deal with them.  But God will be with you.  He/She will always be with you.  Now.  Go enjoy what life has to offer.

Back out to the garden.  Thanks for listening.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Long Range Living

Dad and grandson
Not everybody gets to live past 100, but more and more people do.  You and I may.   Today is my father's 101st Birthday.  He's a special guy. 1913 was evidently a good year to be born and Washington a good state to be born in.

Dad still lives in the home we kids grew up in, in New England, purchased in 1946.  He and Mom met in 1945, raised four kids, and had a good decade of retirement, traveling round the country in their camper.  Mom's blindness and Alzheimer's settled in thereafter, and she died at home in 2000, after years of care by her husband, three daughters and part time care giver.  As sweet a man as Mom was nasty, Dad sprang back to life after she died.  We were thrilled.  Never one to go abroad before, he got his first passport at age 89, and went to Norway with an old sweetheart.  Since then, a few sweethearts have come and gone.  To heaven.  The family keeps a keen eye on his current young sweetheart and chauffeurs him on his dates. 
Dad was from the old school.   Men worked, women kept house and raised the kids.  We scarcely saw him, except at dinnertime.  He retired just before I graduated college nearly forty years ago.  He drove their camper down to New York City to attend the ceremony, and he and Mom headed west from there.  Mom was already losing her sight, so they wasted no time.  I acquired my love for camping from them.  The family went somewhere nearly every summer.  Dad and camping go a long way back.  At age 20, he bought an old Model A Ford and rebuilt its engine, traveling from Wisconsin to the Pacific.  He and a friend camped under the stars.  The depression was in full swing.  $60 got them there and back.

Dad on the left

Dad drove until a few years ago.  It was only when he nicked a skateboarder that he had his license revoked.  After that, he refused to take a bus.  Yes, his body and mind were working, but he was very stubborn.  So my sister became his driver.  Shortly after something landed him in the hospital, a first  for him.  Nothing a catheter couldn't solve, but living in his house from now on?   That would take intensive effort.  He was weakened, sure, but the house was in much worse shape than him.   Goodwill furniture, paintings, lamps, radios, phonographs, records, rugs, exercise machines, clocks, flashlights, microwave ovens, lawn movers, pants, shirts, shoes, and books, thousands of books, filled every living space.  He would steady himself by grabbing onto the furniture as he walked from room to room.  Plastic hung over the secretary and stacks of books because the ceiling leaked beside his bed.  He had buckets strategically placed.   My brother volunteered to come live with him, and now his wife has joined him.  I'm nominating them for sainthood.  The house is becoming habitable again, safe for him, workable for them.  Change is hard.

Dad couldn't live 'independently' without my brother and his wife, my oldest sister and her husband.  Stubborn and happy, my Dad pursues his interests, and we keep him safe.  Dad's eyes, ears, strength, and keen mind are rolling into history, but his heart keeps ticking.  This winter he got a pacemaker.   No, Dad hasn't outlived his joy, his curiosity, and even the infuriating bees he gets in his bonnet.

Celebrations like last weekend's remind me why we love our families.  Where else would we learn how to get along despite frustrations, disagreements, and unintended consequences when different personalities rub shoulders?  Nothing but love and hard work see us through. 
Dad, his son, son-in-law, and two of his three daughters

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How My Friend Picker Got Broken

Oh, gosh, this is hard to write.  Linus and me, we have a lot in common.  I feel like I'm back in high school with this friendship quest.  I was not popular then.

This post is about my friendship flops, how I knew and when I knew my New Friend Picker was broken.  It all started when I took the easy road.  Well, no road in widowhood is easy, but you get what I mean.   This is what it looks like.  First, stick with who you know.  Second, go to so many groups your head is spinning.  After that, solo dining and traveling feels soothing.  Third, consume yourself with meeting a new partner. After all,  24/7/365 with one man is easier than herding cats, which is what making dates with girlfriends feels like.  Fourth, turn to sharing who you are through blogs, because that's where the wonderful women are.  

But that doesn't yield a girlfriend joking over pasta at that great new Italian restaurant.  So, here's the report on my friendship quest.  Time period: nine years.  Four new girlfriends total, one of whom has died.  The other three, well, here they are.  To protect the names of the innocent I'll call them Sally Sunshine, Suzie Starburst, and Queen Mary.  Anyone would say they are lively, confident and bright.  One never encounters a lull in the conversation.  So easy to be with.  They were all single and they had free time to go out to dinner. Still, I'd call them the low hanging fruit of friendship.  Why?  Because all they needed was an audience, and almost anyone would do.  They will, and they did suck the air out of a room whenever I tried to turn the conversation back to me.

Be relieved.  I am no longer friends with them.  For a while I confused being a wingman with being friends.  Oh, God. You know that sinking feeling we had in High School?  Or were you one of the popular girls? 

See why I needed to hire a Friendship Coach?  I am a nice, decent woman with lousy girlfriend picking skills.

I tell myself, we widows really do have an ace in the hole when it comes to making friends. We obviously had great husband picking skills.  If I had to choose between having a great husband and lousy girlfriends, or a lousy husband and great girlfriends, I'd pick the first.   That way, you have 24/7/365 covered.   My point is, these great skills can be transferred.

As my Friendship Coach says "Be in the room". To which I add "Be the one to break the ice."  I've been doing that more frequently.  Feels good.

Best wishes to you in your friendship quest, my online buddies.  I would so love to know what you've learned since you've been widowed.  It's not hard to do better than me!