This week I read Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. It is very well-written and full of facts and figures about losses, although it is her personal journey of pain, discovery and growth which spoke most to me. I do not write as well as Ms. Sandberg and her co-author Adam Grant and so, quite frankly, it shut me down. It has taken a few days to recognize even though we both want to express ourselves and be helpful to others, our voices are not meant to be the same. Thus I continue with this blog.
Right after I lost my husband, I searched for signs. I and his daughters saw an unusual number of rainbows, which in mythology represents a path between heaven and earth. Rabbits seemed to pepper my path, and if they are my animal totem it means I should use the strengths already within me to survive and grow. The color turquoise initially was prominent, and that hue is associated with a lot of positive attributes, including clarity, communication, and creativity. Even the horoscope for my last birthday seemed to be a sign, suggesting I make changes to feel better about myself and to move forward in life.
All these signs – yet I did not see him. I saw nothing of certainty.
I listened for his voice, his breath – yet heard nothing.
I reached across the bed in hopes to feel his body resting next to mine – yet felt nothing.
It is only in my dreams that I see, hear and feel Rick, and those dreams are too infrequent. The truth of Rick’s continued presence in my life is his daughters’ love for their family, the stories of him told by close friends, and the ache in my heart as each of the “firsts” comes and goes. I am certain of him.
In my last blog I wrote about laughing. Laughter somehow opens up my heart and mind, giving me a release from pent-up emotions. For me these days, laughter is often followed by sobs. I tamp down outward signs of my grief for my and others’ benefits, but that isn’t healthy. When I let loose with one emotion I give my body permission to let go of others. So it is all good.
Today is a teary day. I look at photos of Rick and wish him back with me, happy and whole.
Gratitude and thanks-giving have been cropping up in my readings and conversations. Recently I read this sentence in Katherine Woodward Thomas’ book Calling in ‘The One’,
“I even began saying prayers of thanks for everything . . . to see if I could alter my experience without altering my circumstances.”
What an amazing statement!
I often let my circumstances define me: I am now a widow. That leads to entrapment in all kinds of internal messages about how I must, ought and never-ever, followed by the inevitable poor me. It is so easy to wallow in misery and not take responsibility for my life.
Reversing my view to gratitude, I was married to a fantastic man. I have close friends and family. New activities are underway, such as dragon boat paddling and mah jong. My chronological experience has been good overall. And yet, I know I became a better person than I ever could have on my own, simply because I was married to Rick. Over twenty years ago our premarital counselor told me, “You lead without warmth,” yet with Rick I learned to be more extroverted and engaging. Without him, I worry I am slipping back into self-centeredness, egocentricity and sloth – everything that is the antithesis of gratitude.
I need others. Oh, how I hate making myself vulnerable enough to write that down! The reality is that if I didn’t have others championing me on this new journey, I’d fail. Thank God for them.
Today is April Fools’ Day. It was practically a national holiday in our house when I was growing up. My mother would short-sheet the beds, sew up pajamas, set out a newspaper from the year before, and so on. I thought everyone made a big deal of the day, but now I understand it probably gave her the opportunity to be a bit passive-aggressive under the guise of humor. We ended the tradition, my father and I, the year we both endured the tossing of cold water over the shower curtain and then decided to turn off the hot water when my mother showered. She did not see the humor at all, and by the time she was through with us, neither did we!
My appreciation for humor has changed over the years. Embarrassingly, I used to giggle at “dumb blonde” jokes until a not-dumb-at-all blonde friend told me how it hurt her to hear them. I also found jokes about older people often funny as well – until I became one. Now the most humorous tales are those of my real life.
I make a lot of to-do lists, shopping lists, packing lists. Good planning does not always equate to good execution. I often come home from the grocery store without exactly everything I need. I either forget to write an item down or am so busy crossing items off my list that I don’t notice what’s leftover. (I never forget the chocolate). So with a wry smile and chuckle, I make second trips to the grocery store from time-to-time. Naturally it doesn’t happen when I am planning solo meals, but only when I am hosting company and have time constraints.
I have my marbles, so to speak, but I also have what I’ve read is called widow’s brain or widow fog.
Today I was laughing so hard I practically snorted through my nose – I know I was talking about something silly I had done but I don’t remember the specifics. (I choose not to remember enough to share it in this blog.) My girlfriends and I were playing Mah Jongg, but our interest in the game receded as we began talking about our weeks. Smiling, laughing and finding humor in life is something I could not imagine doing even just a few months ago.
Maybe I’ll be inspired to play an April Fools’ Day joke on someone after all!
This week two of my girlfriends have birthdays. One is younger than I; the other just a few months older.
The younger woman is part of a small group of friends here in my community. We enjoy our times together – lots of laughing, story-telling, wine imbibing. These women are wise and compassionate, and have been mainstays in my life since losing Rick. They lift me up in this new stage of life.
My other friend is a college classmate with whom I talk almost weekly and see periodically. College is now a distant chapter, so our conversations revolve around the present. I value her intelligence, good manners and kindness.
Nurture vs. nature. Genes vs. environment. How much longer will I live? Rick was active and healthy. He took after his long-living maternal side – he easily should have lived another 15 or more years and perhaps even reached 100. I look at my own family history and wonder if I have just 10 years left, dying at my mother’s age, or if I will make it into another decade as did my father. What are the implications?
If I only have another decade, how do I want to live? Does it even matter?
If I have another decade (or more) to live, how do I want to live? It matters!
The grief of losing my husband paralyzed me for a time. I struggled to put together a list of activities to try, which I’ll share in another blog. I read books about widowhood, starting over as a single woman, finding oneself. I engaged a therapist. It is so much easier to not take responsibility for self-exploration and growth, but simply to drift along – but I have jumped into new ventures and this blog is one of them.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .
Everyone has seasons/chapters of their lives – defining them for a certain period of time and influencing their future times. I look back on my life and loosely define my main chapters as childhood, college, career and marriage. Now a new chapter is underway.
I spent years living in west Michigan and a friend there wonders why I don’t return for a visit. That life is over; without Rick by my side I simply have no desire to return to the neighborhoods in which we lived or to rehash old memories of happier days. Those memories are with me here in Florida, too.
It is easier to consider visits to places I knew before Rick, or to travel to new locations.
There is a certain push-pull to this new life. I am smart and capable, and I can navigate my world just fine on my own, thank you very much! But I desire connections with others, and sometimes fill up my calendar with too many activities. Solitude vs. busy-ness. I still have not found a reasonable rhythm to this new chapter of life.
To move forward, I will step back a bit and repeat a Facebook post of mine, written late last year:
Focus is already shifting past this month’s holidays to the next. Articles about the New Year abound. Resolutions almost never work for me; however, 2017 fills me with dread, hope, pain and sanguinity. I want the most wonderful man no longer of this world back in this world. I want his love, touch, counsel, humor, kindness — I want it all.
The journey of grief is unique to everyone. I work hard to “fake it ’til I make it” but that comes at a personal cost. To act socially appropriate exhausts me, and thus, in turn, I need a large measure of solitude and silence.
I am making one 2017 resolution to stay longer in the present, and another to realize over how little I have any control.
In the here and now, my world has expanded. My husband Rick’s family is warmly embracing; I am grateful for the love between his daughters and me. Scattered cousins shower their affection. Friends are kind and thoughtful.
Control? Ha! I am responsible for my decisions and behavior, but I cannot control how others respond. There’s no controlling the future — all I can do is walk on, picking my way over and around life’s challenges.
This is my first blog. My first year as a widow.
Life has changed dramatically in the past year and I am picking my way through feeling dazed, despondent, and depleted to reach a new normal of living, learning, and loving.
Journaling just does not do it for me. I enjoy writing with an outward intent. Over the years I have written handbooks, benefit summaries, strategic visions, and even a few poems. Just recently I began a web-based column on bicycling for a city. So this is the logical next step.
In my opinion, anyone who blogs is searching for meaning in her own words – as well as offering viewpoints to the greater world of followers. So many of the books and articles I have read about grief and widowhood seem off-base to me and I feel a need to push back against expectations.
- There is no way to make this journey in a prescribed fashion to a logical conclusion; the loss of my beloved husband will always be part of me.
- There is no way to move on that satisfies everyone around me; I simply have looked for opportunities to get back in the game of life.
- There are infinite ways to live my life.
I believe my blog can be helpful to others. My target readers are in the second half of life, singles and/or life-long learners. A wry appreciation for the incongruities of life is also helpful.