Music Rocks my Soul

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“. . . the white bird just sits in her cage, growing old. . . . The sunsets go, the clouds roll by and the earth turns old. . . .”

It’s a Beautiful Day, 1969

When Rick first died, I just wanted absolute silence while I processed my grief.  Over time the silence became deafening at times, so I began to play some music.  I remember the first time I spun around and danced across the floor to a catchy tune – and immediately felt guilty for finding joy in the music.  Now I play music more often, but days can go by without music (or TV) in my home.

Around 1972 when I was in college I saw It’s a Beautiful Day perform.  Sometimes I play White Bird for the melody, but also for the lyrics.  The song reminds me that I cannot remain static, but need to fly on to new adventures.

I found some helpful information about music on Healthline.com.  A 2017 article written by Suzanne Boothby referred to a study which indicated “people tend to prefer sad music when they are experiencing a deep interpersonal loss, like the end of a relationship. . . . sad music provides a substitute. . . .”  I have asked Alexa to play certain songs that tug on my heart and fit my then-moods.  I think I’ll always tear up at Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U.  Some of the Eurythmics’ and Ed Sheeran’s songs are poignant, too.  Other tracks get me smiling and swaying – almost anything by Pink, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake or Train.

Another Healthline.com article, written by Cathy Cassata back in 2015, reported on a study author’s conclusion “that people most often listen to the music that they listened to when they were between the ages of 16 and 26.”  Huh.

Rick was older than I, and we often compromised on our age difference by listening to smooth jazz, Motown or even classical music.  My new beau, however, is my age and is a classic vinyl aficionado.  He knows the music, the lyrics and the artists in (sometimes excruciating) detail.  Even in my formative years between 16 and 26, I don’t think I listened to so much rock music as I have in these last eight months – Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Yes, Rolling Stones, Marshall Tucker,  Lynyrd SkynyrdEagles, Led Zeppelin, etc.  As he has played these songs for us, he has developed a new rule – Mary cannot sing along.  Ever.  Never ever.  Something about not being able to carry a tune . . . .

Music dictates a lot of our plans through the end of the year and into the next.  The big concerts are Elton John and Ed Sheeran.  The musicals include Chicago, Jersey Boys and Les Miserables.  Add to that multiple tribute bands and other musical programs offered within our community.  Time to put on my dancing shoes!

Modern Widows Club shout out!

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The second annual Modern Widows Club Empowerment Weekend just ended; I wasn’t there.

Last year I pulled on my big-girl panties, just a few months after Rick’s death, and drove over to Orlando to see if the group might be helpful to me.  I already wrote about my experience, but suffice it to say that emotionally where I was then and am now are worlds apart.  Last year I was one of the oldest widows at the event, and one of the newest.  I couldn’t imagine having the same giving heart, joy and laughter I saw in some of the other widows who had been on the journey longer than I.

Yet here I am.  Heart-full and joy-full.

Those widows showed me the way by sharing how they built new lives and even new loves.  Many found themselves raising children as single mothers, returning to school or work to find new careers — but even more notable to me – becoming role models!  Once they had found their way to other widows for mentoring, they, in turn, sought to be guides  as well.  The seminars and social gatherings were uplifting and informative; I proudly wore my MWC tiara back home from the weekend.

Carolyn Moor is the founder of the Modern Widows Club, and she’s fabulous.  Two other women emerged from last year’s conference for me as well.  One is a bit older and co-runs a club chapter in the southeast. The other is quite a bit younger and remarried.  We are Facebook friends, so we know a bit about what is going on in each other’s lives; we have had some private conversations as well when the going gets tough.  I am grateful for both of them.

I have progressed to the point where I am emotionally stable most of the time, and I have tried to be of counsel to other widows in my life.  So why didn’t I attend the Modern Widows Club Empowerment Weekend again this year?  I don’t have a good answer.  Stasis?  Focus on my new beau?  A been there/done that attitude?  None of those reasons are satisfactory.

If I am realistic with myself, I still hate being put in the box of widowhood, so I immediately shy away from being clumped with other women in the same situation – yet I am more than willing to inject myself into a one-on-one situation if I can be helpful.  And I really, really, liked the variety of ladies I met last year.  If the widow label was removed from all of us, we’d still just have been a gathering of women enjoying our time together.

Maybe I need to plan to attend the third annual Empowerment Weekend!

Catawampus

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No, this blog is not about cats.  I really wanted to call it gee-skwee, but it turns out the term my mother used throughout her life for off-kilter doesn’t exist outside of my memories.  Online I found the term skew-gee so perhaps the flip-flopped version explains a lot about my childhood and how my adult mind now works!  (Sorry, Mom.)

Florida is getting a lot of thunderstorms this summer.  Just a few days ago lightning struck a lovely oak tree just down the street from me.  I didn’t lose any electric equipment as did the neighbors adjacent to the tree, but I found all of the framed artwork on one of my load-bearing walls were gee-skwee.  (Can you tell I’m stubborn?)

Straightening up the frames triggered my looking at some of the other prints and photographs in my house.  What needs to be kept?  What needs to be updated?  I don’t want a home that is frozen in time or obsolete.  I want photos of Rick, his and now my family, my cousins, and my beau – there will always be room for those – but maybe there are other mementos I’d rather set out.

Right now I have photos I took of Florida fauna and of last year’s trip to Cuba.  What if I go to Scotland or Hawaii next year?  Should I keep the Florida and Cuban photos up forever, or should they be replaced with the latest trips?

There are times when I doubt my memories.  I remember something as if it was yesterday – especially if it is a good memory – and other times my recollections feel jumbled.  If I call my beau by a nickname I once used for my late husband, it jars my mind and I feel off-kilter.  If I visit a place where I went with both my parents, and later on with my stepdaughter and her husband — such as Niagara Falls — is my clearest memory of the water from just a few years ago, or decades ago?

This mortal life is catawampus for sure!

Gut Check

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Today is the day between Father’s Day and the calendar day on which Rick passed away.

I’ve tried to discern my feelings today – prickly skin, stomachache, head throbbing, a sense of dread, and an inability to think clearly.  It isn’t all because of the second anniversary of losing my husband, as other factors contribute to my unrest.

The first is really a positive, but still brings emotions to the surface.  I and the man I’m dating met with seven Michigan couples in just three days to cross-fertilize our friendships.  I met three of his and he met four of mine.  I hadn’t seen my friends for four years.  Of course there were emotional hugs and reminiscing about Rick – yet, too, there was the pleasure of introducing my beau and seeing their pleasure in my finding such a good man.

The second reason is death and illness around me.  A friend lost her husband just a few weeks ago – expected, but yet painful.  Other acquaintances are quite ill – worrisome to those around them.  Now when I contemplate a death my heart reaches out to the living – I know their journeys will be difficult.  I wish I had the recipe for handling grief so that I could show them the way, but there is no one recipe – everyone uses different ingredients to get through – faith, family, friends, time, growth.  There’s no test kitchen for grief.

In an earlier blog I wrote that I am happy.  I truly am; however, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have periods of intense sorrow and a deep desire to look into Rick’s blue eyes and see him smile back at me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t want to run to others entering widowhood and try to make their passages easier.  My empathy for others is born out of my pain, out of my travails, out of my emergence into a new life with joy and gratitude.

Tomorrow I will celebrate my blue-eyed man’s life.  I will spend time with the women in my neighborhood who lifted me up in those first weeks and months.  Later on, my brown-eyed man will dry my tears, hold me close, and listen to my recollections.

Continuing my Redefinition

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My last post to this blog was about four months ago.  At the time, I felt the possibility of transitioning from widow to girlfriend was something I needed to explore privately – especially as I do not want to exploit others in my writing.  A few weeks ago I was in New York City with my late husband Rick’s family.  During a conversation with one of my stepdaughters, she encouraged me to continue my blog to illustrate how my new life is evolving – thus, here I am!

I am happy.  I have reached this emotional state with a lot of hard work on my part, support from friends and family, and a good old-fashioned romance.  With a surfeit of smiles and laughter these days, other widows have been referred to me as a role-model – and of course I am not.  Everyone’s journey through loss of spouse/partner is different – the relationship, circumstances of death, work and myriad other issues impact the widow’s path.  I can look back at almost two years, however, and tick off steps which helped me:

  • Being vulnerable and open enough to ask my friends and family for their time;
  • Seeking counseling to deal with my grief;
  • Loving my late husband, yet making my home a sanctuary and not a time capsule;
  • Returning to those activities which support physical health (e.g., bicycling, strength-training);
  • Increasing my circle of women friends – regardless of their marital status;
  • Jettisoning friends who could not support me in my quest for a new life;
  • Developing and acting on a list of activities offering novelty and challenge (e.g., dragon boat racing, independent travel, writing);
  • Defining for myself what I could offer a romantic partner, and he me; and
  • Allowing myself to accept that I could love another man in a different way and in a different time.

When someone who hasn’t seen much of me lately spots me now, she or he often remarks about my seeming happiness.  Just several months ago I’d have thought I just look alive rather than as broken as before – but now I smile and acknowledge my state.  It feels good to know that I will always love Rick and miss him and that I have the prospect of a good life ahead.

So what can I say about the man with whom I’m romantically involved, without revealing too much?  He is kind, smart, funny, energetic, and makes me laugh so hard I can barely catch my breath.  He loves classic rock, musicals and sports.  He enjoys cooking.  He has his own interests, and supports me with his presence at my events.  We both lost beloved spouses, so he holds me close through my periodical meltdowns.  Above all, he lives a faith-based life and regularly expresses gratitude for God’s gifts.

Am I blessed or what?

Hiatus

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There’s a new man in my life, and thus I expect to take a pause from writing this blog.  My posts have been oriented to adjusting to life as a widow and building a “new normal.”  While dating is but one of the many activities I’ve tried out over these past 20 months, I feel it is a new relationship to be explored privately rather than exploited in this blog.

I will, however, take this opportunity to write a bit about dating at this stage of life.

Last year my primary physician and I had a discussion about the difficulty I anticipated in finding a man or men appropriate to date.  He shared his opinion that younger people often begin relationships out of physical infatuation which may grow into love and commitment, but that older folks not only want some level of attraction, they also want to be able to have engaging dialogue with one another.  I made a list of characteristics I wanted in a date, along with one or two deal-breakers, but now I’m finding there are additional traits I missed.  (A widow speaking at a conference last summer said her list had shrunk to:  “Are you a felon?” and I laughed along with the other widows, but seriously – my list is growing!)

Almost effortlessly this new man walked into my life and we are finding a surprising number of commonalities.  We converse about everything under the sun.  We talk, too, about how we want to spend our last decades of life and if/how another person might fit into them.

As I said a few posts ago, it’s all good.

 

Friends

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I recently fell into a conversation with two people who were discussing the difference between friend and acquaintance.  Until I listened to them, I would have referred to both of them as friends – but now I see the distinction.

Googling friend turns up a definition of “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”  Right away I balked at this because I count my stepdaughters as friends, beyond our familial relationship.

One person in the conversation said he had friends, but he also had acquaintances – and I am an acquaintance, but not a friend of his, despite us knowing each other well enough to have exchanged greetings for years.  Google defines acquaintance as “someone recognized by sight or someone known, though not intimately . . . casual . . . .”  He also classified the other conversationalist as an acquaintance, to which she disagreed and fought for a closer designation, such as buddy.  (I’m definitely an acquaintance, and not a friend or even a buddy, of his.)

Decades ago I met a happy man – he sang at weddings, he loved his wife, he and his neighbor had keyed their house locks alike.  He told me he had five friends on whom he could count for anything.  I’ve never forgotten him.  I know a few single people who have built a tribe in lieu of traditional family and view them as fortunate beings, with a tightknit network of friends on which to lean in difficult times.

Since Rick’s death my friends and acquaintances have shifted like the desert sands.  Some have blown away of their own volition; others I’ve jettisoned.  I’m thrilled with those who remain and who I’ve found.  In earlier years, I am not certain I knew anyone who was a close enough friend on whom I could count for anything – maybe for some things that didn’t interrupt/disrupt others’ lives perhaps – but not like that fortunate, happy man.  Today, I have a few woman friends (including stepdaughters:  see second paragraph above) on whom I could call 24/7 for help or even just an ear.  There is a new man in my life who is developing into a constant, supportive presence, too.

I’ll take my friends with gratitude and look for more among my acquaintances.