Wister Solidarity

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(Some use the term “wister” for the widow sisterhood – thus, the origin of this post’s title.)

Some posts ago I spoke about Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B:  Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.  Sandberg’s story is well-known and her chronicle of the pain and challenges resonated with me.  Now I want to plug another wister blogger, Erica Roman.  You may have seen her recent impassioned support of widower and comedian Patton Oswalt, who became engaged fifteen months after his beloved wife passed away.  Here’s my favorite line from her WordPress blog found at https://ericaroman.me/2017/07/07/a-widows-rage-defense-of-patton-oswalts-engagement/ :

“How long should a widow sit in isolation before YOU are comfortable enough                      to release them from their solitary confinement?”

A powerful statement.

As her blog went viral, two of my extended family members reached out to me in a supportive way about her opinions.  Roman is very clear, having become a pregnant widow with a toddler at a young age.  In a CBS interview earlier this month (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OksrTnY8gCA ) she said,” . . . there’s a difference between being able to watch someone’s [grief] process and the right to speak into the process.”

Where do you stand on a widow or widower dating again, or perhaps even remarrying?

Just as with so many social issues, my views have evolved over time, and there’s nothing like becoming a member of the club to bring things into focus.  When my father began to date after six months of widower-hood, I bit my tongue even though it seemed early to me.  But in reality, he and I were never going to live in the same area, he was lonely and his lady friend offered an opportunity for a robust social life and travel that had faded away as my mother also faded.  (I admit I adhere to the common perception that a man doesn’t do as well on his own without a woman — whereas a woman, such as me, often can handle things competently on her own.)

While I have taken little or no action to initiate dating, I am now starting to think and talk about it.  What are appropriate expectations?  When will I know I am ready?  How do I honor, love and cherish Rick if another man becomes a part of my new version of life?  How will those important to me – family and close friends – react if I take this step?

When a woman loses her partner she often loses some access to social activities which are couple-centered.  Even invitations to dinner are not as frequent and she must rely more on women-only or family events.  I have railed against this seemingly unfair result of my new marital status, and in talking to other widows I find their experiences akin to mine.  We are encouraged to clump together for no good reason other than our spouses are gone – shared interests and activities are irrelevant to some of those outside our club.  No wonder a widow often wants to date again – she wants companionship, friendship, shared interests, intimacy – and she also wants to return to her earlier rhythm of life.

A shift in my view, now based on age and experience:   I cannot sit in judgement of others, nor do I want others to judge me on this issue.

 

Resilience

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This past weekend I attended a conference in south Florida.  On my way down, I stopped at the cemetery in Fort Lauderdale to pay my respects.  I rounded the corner of the columbarium and there was a ladder just below Rick’s niche and an open space above. For someone raised in the Christian faith, you can only imagine my visceral reaction upon seeing an open vault once sealed!  It simply turned out that another man’s ashes were being inurned above my husband’s.

It is less than a year ago that I, sobbing, handed the urn holding Rick’s cremated remains up to a cemetery worker standing on a ladder with a niche open and ready to seal him up forever.  That was the last time I held him in my arms.

Since becoming a widow, I have thought about the concept of resilience.  Rick had gobs and gobs of resilience.  Years ago when we thought his two knee replacements might be his only health challenges, I admired the way he pushed through the rehab, doing the maximum possible to regain range of motion.  He wanted to return to motorcycling and bicycling as soon as he could and so he had a laser focus on his results.

As I faced my hip replacement surgery this year, I worried I did not have his resilience and might lack the fortitude to push through rehab well by myself.  It turns out I did have enough after all, and am back to bicycling and dragon boating.

Among the many interesting speakers at the conference was a former POW:  Captain Dave Carey, USN, Retired.  He is now a motivational speaker and draws parallels between his ability to endure imprisonment and beatings with how we civilians handle our own challenges.  He indicated about 75% of Vietnam-Era POW’s have fared well.  Studies have shown, according to Captain Carey, that certain traits portend better resilience.  They include being reasonably optimistic, not a loner, somewhat gregarious, a problem-solver and having faith.  While those qualities may seem logical, what caught my attention was that he believes they are teachable, not just innate.  During my long drive back home I pondered this.  I do not think they can be “taught” but maybe emulation of others can help get us through difficult times.  If I had not had Rick as a role model in joint replacement recovery, perhaps I would have struggled more in my own.

I close this post with a quote from Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her own cancer battle in 2010.  She wrote, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.  You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

An INTJ stressed into an ISTJ

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I am an introvert – really!  I mask it well most of the time as I learned to speak out early in my career and developed more social confidence as I moved into senior management.  I try to emulate Rick, an extrovert who was always interested in others.  He was very well-liked because of that and other wonderful traits — I try to go for respect as I feel that’s a more attainable goal for me than being liked.

In fact, I’m an INTJ in Myers-Briggs terminology.  The second letter stands for intuition, which I have not used for what seems like forever.  As I have taken the test multiple times, I’ve discovered that when I am stressed the “N” changes to “S” for sensing.  I have not been able to trust my instincts for a protracted period of time; these days, I have to touch and feel things to be sure of them.

A perfect example of my current state of mind happened at a recent social event for singles in my neighborhood.  I thought it was about time to:  1) perhaps meet some other single women, and 2) try introducing myself to one or two single men.  I scored on both.  One man talked to me exclusively (except for the frequent interruptions of other women who wanted him on the dance floor) and asked me out.  I have contemplated dating someone, down the road, and have developed a list of qualities and shared interests which would be important to me.  This man, while very pleasant, had none – none – of the qualities on my list.

So I did what many women in my situation would do – I accepted his invitation.

Yep, no “N” for intuition in that decision!

The next morning I reviewed the evening in my mind, berating myself for being too eager to go on my first date since becoming a widow more than a year ago.  I used my “S” sensing skills and ranked this very nice man against my very firm list of attributes and once again saw no correlation.

So I did what this woman should have done the first time – I turned his invitation down after all.

Family Trees

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No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me
No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me in silence
No more “I love you’s”
Changes are shifting outside the word.

Sung by Annie Lennox
Written by The Lover Speaks

I love this song.  I ask Alexa to play it over and over again on Echo.  It is the words themselves, as well as my cousin Annie’s beautiful voice, which captivate me.

Yes, my cousin Ann – actually my third cousin, once removed.  No, we haven’t met.  In my possession is a love poem written in 1856 by my 2nd-great grandfather James Chalmers; he is Annie’s 3rd-great grandfather.  I always thought it would be fabulous if she set the Scottish poem to music.  A trip to Aberdeenshire, Scotland is on my bucket list, but she doesn’t live there anymore.

From high school on I have been interested in my family history, which is Dutch and Scot mostly.  My 9th great-grandfather is the historical figure “Anthony the Turk.”  One of his daughters married my Dutch immigrant 8th great-grandfather in the 17th century in what is now New York City.  I’ve devoured family histories, scoured online resources and even had my DNA analyzed.  The conclusion is that I am the same as most of the world’s population – a mixture of expected and unexpected ethnicities.

Family lore is so interesting.  Over the generations, the tales change.  Some ancestors become larger than life; others simply disappear.  Illegitimacy exists in several of my family trees – fascinating to me in 2017 but surely sources of gossip in previous centuries.  There are other family “secrets” that simply exemplify the customs of the day, which in 2017 are shameful to me.  Both the family tales and the truths enrich my understanding of my ancestors’ lives.

Reality, which is perhaps only perception, is seen differently by each individual.  My mother seemed to only remember proud moments and accomplishments within her family.  My father was more fact-driven, but like the rest of us, preferred to talk about the positives.  I could ask them about the same experience and hear two totally different versions.  A sobering example of this is when I asked them about how they started smoking – my mother asserted that no one initially knew cigarettes were bad, while my father acknowledged that they were called “coffin sticks” even back when.  (This is so sad, as they both died of lung cancer.)

As time goes on, I tend to remember the highlights and the low lights of my parents, both gone.  My memories of my years with Rick remain fresh and accessible for now – I fear the time when the middle ground fades away – the day-to-day rhythm of our life together.

 

First Anniversary

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Breath in
I catch my lip with my teeth,
looking at my man:
my robust, physical husband.
My heart pumps faster as I gaze
at this fine specimen of masculinity
strong arms, big-chested,
gazing down at me.

It seems like yesterday
not two decades ago
that life together began.

Heart beating
Those eyes, so very blue.
They crinkled with warmth and love;
they narrowed in anger,
they closed with trust and intimacy.
Even now I look around our home
and those eyes gaze back at me
from almost everywhere.

Breathe out
I recall adventures so numerous,
often two-up on a motorcycle
across great swaths of the country,
into Canada and the last frontier.
Whatever sparked his curiosity:
engaging people, being outdoors
hiking, kayaking and biking.

Heart beating
Passionate nights.
Love given and received.
Intimate banter between spouses.
The skip in my heart when he
turned those blue eyes on me.
A wide grin, hug and kiss, followed
by his pledge to always love me.

Breathe in
Surgeries, cancer, treatments.
Seeking the best medical care
south, north and even west.
His first words upon waking up
from a seven-hour surgery:
“I told you everything would be OK.”
Just as he said, everything was fine

. . . for three years more.

Heart beating
We both thought he had it beat.
We traveled, made new friends.
Enjoyed time with family.
Built a new home, moved to Florida.
But cancer rose once again.
Bloodied, weary, resilient still,
he fought with every ounce of strength.

Just one year ago today
his heart beat no more.
Breathe out

 

In/Visible Clubs

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There are myriad organizations in the world.  Sports fans follow soccer, football, NASCAR – you name it.  Political entities unite behind their candidates.  Birders show their journals off to other enthusiasts.  Grateful Dead fans and Parrot Heads follow the music.  Huge groups of people which are just so enthralled with particular ideas or activities are all around and yet invisible to the likes of me.

In the past year, I have joined the following groups:

  • Mahjong players
  • Dragon boat racers
  • Widows and widowers
  • Vintage Blues fans (and still Fabulous Rockers fans)
  • United Way Women’s Leadership Council members
  • Americans who have visited Cuba
  • Bloggers
  • Women who think somehow growing their hair out will make it become straight and sleek (Sorry, I digress . . . .)

I joined a new club recently:

  • Joint replacement veterans

Since my hip replacement just a month ago I have been rehabbing.  Besides using some gym equipment, my surgeon directed me to do a series of easy movements in the pool a few times each week.  So I have been going to an indoor pool near my home, joining others as they rehab their knees, hips, shoulders, or backs.  We usually share a quick summary of our surgeries and progress.  I’ve even had people glance at my 5-page workout summary and immediately know my surgeon’s name!

As I go about my business with a heightened awareness of telltale scars, I make eye contact and nod to my fellow joint replacement club members.  We don’t even need to talk; we know we belong to the same club.

Future Present

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Earlier this week I was talking to a close friend who has lost both parents, as have most people in my age group.  My focus in this blog so far has been on my loss, my changed status, my challenges as a widow – but really, a loss is a loss.  Father’s Day is soon, and for some, their fathers have been the most important person in their lives.  I miss other family members who have passed on, too, and not just Rick.

The journey is the same.  None of the journeys are alike.

My heart and head have been in pain these last twelve months, and my body as well.  A widow told me almost a year ago that the second year of widowhood is tougher than the first.  The first year is filled with administrivia and constant emotional distress.  By now I know that I have more control than I’d like to admit about how I react to the world, and I am not willing to have my future worse than my present.  Each morning I lay in bed for a while, thinking about my day and collecting the necessary mental fortitude to act in a socially acceptable manner.  Now that I can walk unaided once more, I rise of out of bed and grab onto a bed post, collecting the necessary physical energy to walk closer to my old gait.

Preparation for mental and physical efforts are the same, and yet unalike.

My heart, head and body are better and stronger for this past year. I don’t think I can love in the same way as I did my husband, but I do love my family and friends more than ever.  I don’t think I can ever win a trivia game, but between solitude and therapy I am more aware and forgiving of myself.  I don’t think I will ever be a physical powerhouse, but I have become more athletic.  For those of you who lost loved ones this past year, I hope you find your strengths as well.

Emotions still come in waves and there’s a tsunami due in just ten days.