Holiday spirit

Nearly every morsel of me wants to title this blog…bah humbug…but that little light of hope I carry around won’t let me do it.  The holidays are upon us and well, they are bringing me down.  At least I think it’s the holidays.  I’ve had so many changes this year. The largest one, taking a new job hasn’t been what I had hoped. My personal life, well, I’m not sure how much personal life I have because I work a bunch and it is catching up with me. My boys just aren’t themselves.  Is it really as simple as we are back in the midst of the holidays again and our broken hearts surface again in a more distinct way?

I really do have a hard time some days sorting out which is which.  Are some of the things that bring me down just normal things or am I taken down more deeply because of my widowed soul.  I know many people struggle with work, children, balancing their lives every day. Is the acute pain I feel because down deep, I know my life would have been very different if cancer hadn’t knocked on my door nine years ago and taken the only man that could put up with me?

It has been a very long several weeks.  Really, it has been a long semester.  The new job I took, shuffled our lives around so much.  That coupled with the fact that it was necessary for me to take on coaching for extra income the last six weeks has exhausted me.  I was already feeling pretty guilty about how much time I am with my boys, but add coaching and I only see them for three or four hours a day, if that.  I feel like that out of touch parent.  They spend more of their days with other people.  The time we are together is not quality time because it’s catch up time.

I’ve been trying over the past several years to let my social life back in too.  I’ve had a bit of success, but I think the more I let it in, it compounds the loneliness. Once a month or so, I have a night out and then the nights home feel quieter, lonelier than before when I was just used to being alone at night. Does that make sense? I think again, changing jobs has a huge impact here too.  Teaching in high school is a much different beast than teaching in an elementary school.  I’m not sure if it’s just this particular place or high schools in general, but the apathy runs deep and I finding myself disappointed in my choice.  I love the kids and the teaching, but miss collaborating with colleagues.  I keep telling myself that it takes time to build new relationships in a new workplace, but now I’m not sure if that’s it.  I miss my former colleagues very much.  I miss a work place that fosters building relationships and models it.

I also had very sweet, dear friend let me down in a way I never thought would happen.  I trusted this friend with a very vulnerable part of me.  A place of respite and safety for me has disappeared.  I am so hurt by this and what appears to be a lack of care for the disappointment that my heart is broken.  It really makes me wonder if it’s worth it to put that trust in someone, anyone really.  So, I don’t know if it’s just a normal disappointment that’s hurting my heart or is it my own abandonment issues that make it impact me more.

All these pieces of my life march into the holidays with me.  I see the spirit around me rising, but I’m feeling more broken this year.  My fragmented heart is feeling its scars. I am thinking about my boys and another year without their dad has passed.  My little one is always so angry.  I’m not sure if it’s a phase or if it’s his grief coming out sideways.  My big one had his heart broken by a girl.  He appears to be handling it ok, but again, that anger comes out.  I wonder if he’ll struggle with the same abandonment issues that I struggle with as he moves into adult life.  I wonder if we will always be waiting for the other shoe to drop when we have happy moments.  We did know happy.  We did know safety, security.  We did know love. The other shoe dropped though.  I really don’t know if I’ll ever be able to buy in completely again.  I want to, I hope I can, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get there.  Well, because I know nothing really lasts forever.  Nothing.

Yet, despite nothing lasting, the light of hope, the memory of love, and the longing to feel safe again will propel me into the holidays the way it always does.  I will go through the motions and hope they become reality. I’ve come this far, I can’t give up now. I know I will hit moments when it feels like life is miserable. I know this.  I know I will hit moments that scream at me that I’ve made the wrong decision, trusted the wrong person, or let myself and my kids down.  I will pick myself up and try again.  I have survived.  I will continue…holidays or not.

That damn hope.

That wonderful hope.

That undying hope.

“She fell and no one caught her…”

Thanksgiving is here. I am grateful for many, many things. Every day I count my blessings…really. My life is pretty, dang good most days. Sure I have struggles and challenges, everyone does.  Widowed and non-widowed alike will have moments of acute gratitude and acute pain. It is what it is.  People have joy and sorrow in their lives every, single day….holiday or not.

I’m getting better at holidays.  Over eight years of practice now and I don’t feel completely taken down by them. This is my ninth Thanksgiving widowed.  It is my boys ninth Thanksgiving without their dad. When I write these words, they knock the wind out of me. Yesterday, I was so fortunate to see Dave’s work buddies.  I’m not sure if they know how much it means to me to get that call to come by and see them.  They were just gathered for a short time, but being in the room with them, well, it reminds me that he was real.  He was here. We had something. After all these years alone, sometimes I forget that I’m loveable.  I forget that I don’t have to bear all the responsibility alone. I forget it happened to me.

Along with those moments of respite, I remember things too.  I remember that for a while, I had someone who always had my back.  No matter what, Dave had my back. I had his. We knew this.  Our relationship wasn’t perfect…very far from perfect, but I never doubted that he would catch me if I fell.  He would catch me when the big things happened…when I lost a job, a friend, a dream…and when the little, daily things would trip me, his hand was always there to help me up again.  I did everything in my power to be that to him…always. Even in the midst of a fight, maybe even hating each other for a while for whatever reason, I knew he would always be there for me.  I could fall and be caught…no matter what.  Knowing this changed me.  I was braver.  I was more trusting.  I learned to love fiercely, because I wasn’t afraid of being dropped.

In the years since he died, I sought out people who might catch me.  I’ve been lucky because I have a pretty strong net of people who will catch me. The ones that wouldn’t or couldn’t catch me weeded themselves out pretty quickly after his death.  It takes a special soul to catch a widow…at least that’s how I see it.  As a widow, I feel even more invisible. I feel that not only I would not be caught, but who would even notice if I fell?  Who would see me? I feel invisible…would anyone even notice if I needed them to get my back?

I think this is one of those feelings that transcends time for me.  No matter how much I achieve, no matter how much I build in this new, unexpected life, I still worry about being seen and having someone there to catch me.  I know  that having someone like that is rare…I was lucky.

I think this fear of not being caught is a reflection of not receiving one of the things I value most in life.  I put it out there every day for other people.  It is who I am.  I build relationships.  I will love you fiercely.  I will have your back.  If you are family, friend, colleague, student, neighbor, well, really anyone who has become a part of my life, this is what I will do for you.  Some people get this.  Some people are ok with it…some are not. It is who I am. I am one of those people you can count on…nearly all the time.  I think this is why I miss having someone in my corner so badly.  It is one of the many, many reasons I miss Dave so badly…especially this week.  As I think about what would have been our 17th wedding anniversary that just passed, as I think about another holiday season, as I think about the future and how mine was ripped away eight and a half years ago, I miss him deeply.  I miss being caught.  I miss being seen.  I miss being loved fiercely and being able to love someone that way.

In the eighth plus year of this unexpected life, I know for certain that it will continue to teach me unexpected things.  I know that there will be new and unexpected joys.  I know that I will appreciate them even more than the average bear…I know that even though I worry about no one seeing me, no one catching me…someone will.  I know that this holiday season will pass and it will give me unexpected gifts.  I know that I will be stronger, more loving, and more me with every passing day…and for that I am grateful.

Goodbye October

October is my month.  The month I’ve always loved because it is so beautiful here.  The sky is so crisp and blue, the weather cools, it is the month my little boy came into our lives and well, it has always felt like good things are coming.  It is also the month I dread.  The month we knew Dave was sick for sure, the month we found out that time was going be our enemy, the month we knew he would being dying much, much sooner than we expected.  In my post-Dave world, October is also the month we gather to remember him.  Every year, people still come and golf with us in memory of him.  Nine years later, I am always so surprised that we are able to do it again, but I know down to my bones that they will still keep coming because of who he was and what a good friend he was to them.

It is a remarkable thing.

I am glad today is the end of October is near though.  I will be glad to step into another November, knowing I put another October behind me.  This October started out and was going pretty well, but my overwhelmed button was pushed last week and has left me reeling, reflecting and possibly resetting my goals again.  I really thought to myself…it’s ok…it’s not too bad this year…I didn’t hit any low feelings.  I didn’t get stuck in the missing him.  I didn’t get overwhelmed by the “another year on my own.”

Last week, we started transitioning again.  After-school coaching was starting for me and I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to line up for us.  I wasn’t sure that all the pieces were going to fall into place.  I am always apprehensive until the routine re-aligns.  I always stress out about how it will all fit.  I need the extra income though.  I am fortunate to have something I love to do, so my stress and mommy guilt are balanced with hope that finances will be relieved and the fun I have working with the girls.

When I came home on Monday, one of my hounds wasn’t looking himself.  His eyes were still twinkly as always, but he didn’t look well.  It was already near six and I had to get to my big boy to pick him up…so, my sweet pup had to wait.  Well, we got home and the evening fell apart quickly and my sweet dog died.  He was old, but not that old and it was unexpected. It knocked the wind out of me.  He was the last dog that Dave and I had together…he was the “good one”…well behaved, so sweet, and of course held so many lovely memories in his presence.  My heart was broken as I watched him and felt so helpless.  I know it’s not the same, but I was immediately brought back to watching Dave die…feeling so helpless…knowing what was going to happen, wanting to stop it, and being so, so helpless.

With the help of all the sweet people around me, I made it through the week.  The hug from my neighbor when I went over for help after my pup died.  My brother, his family and my mom who came right over and helped me with my boys and the logistics of a big, dead dog in the house, and the people who patiently listened to me this week as I told my story…

I made it through the week.  Then yesterday, we gathered to remember Dave.  We golfed.  We had a great time.  We reminisced. Dave’s friends embrace my boys, share stories about him and it is amazing.  All these years later, they come out and continue to help us heal.  One of Dave’s friends, a lovely man he worked with, was widowed several years after me.  I only see him once a year, but we have the widowed kinship.  We caught up as we do each year.  When he left the lunch, he hugged me and said, “it’s time…find someone to take care of you.” Now he didn’t say this in a chauvinist way meaning that I can’t take care of things, but in the loving, widowed way…his only intent was that I find joy again.  He knows the exhaustion.  He knows the sorrow.  He knows the loneliness.  He knows the healing, the hope, and the surviving too.

It got me thinking even more.  I really don’t even think of having someone to take care of me anymore.  It is my daily assumption that this is my life and it is my responsibility to take care of everything myself.  All my being goes into making our lives work.  All my energy goes into making sure my boys are ok and hopefully happy, healthy and well.  I even take care of myself more now…but someone to take care of me just seems like memory…not a possibility for the future.

So, as I sit here on this lovely, October morning, I feel a bit lost again.  My heart is sad again, but I know that with the sadness, with the lost, I will find something more.  I know that what is the most bittersweet about this time of year is the hope it brings to me despite the pain that always lingers.  I know those memories of hearing my husband was going to die only days after we had our sweet baby always propels me to love more and be more.  As my heart heals, sometimes it is necessary to feel its brokenness again.  It reminds me that there is much more to this unexpected life than just surviving it.

The Grief Hangover

So, it doesn’t happen every year.  Lately, the years and their events have been ok.  We’ve made it through the holidays and special events relatively unscathed.  I’ve come to expect this life that I lead now to be what it is.  Is it what I had hoped? Not always, but it is ok, really it is. I’m pretty used to being alone.  I’m pretty used to sole parenting.  I’m pretty used to dealing with all the matters that arise on my own. That’s just how my life is.  The one thing that is really getting to me lately is seeing my boys suffer.  I see their broken hearts.  I ache. But they are their hearts though…I can do all that I can to get them help to cope, build their grief tool boxes, and love them, but some days…well some days…they will  just miss their dad and there is nothing I can do to lift that from them.

The last week has been one of those weeks.  We had Dave’s birthday followed by Father’s Day…always a double whammy…but this year was a rough one again.  My little boy is really missing his daddy and I feel so helpless.  Father’s Day found both boys missing Dave this year.  I mean, they miss him every year, but this year they were both feeling it strongly.  It’s hard because I never know what to expect when we begin one of these days.  I know its Father’s Day, but I don’t always know what direction it will hit me from when the blow comes.

Yesterday started out pretty well.  We spent the morning enjoying the zoo.  We rode our bikes there and had fun.  It was good.  My little boy wanted to go to the cemeteries: one for his dad, one for my dad, to leave flowers for each man they have lost.  Still, everything was going ok.  I usually leave these types of visits and such up to the boys.  I don’t suggest.  I let them guide me.  We got flowers.  We went.

At the cemetery, my very stoic eight year old lost it.  He doesn’t talk about it.  He just sobs.  Every ounce of my being wants to fix this for him.  I know I can’t.  I know it is his journey. It still kills me.  My big boy only stepped out of the car for a few minutes.  He didn’t really want to be there, but did it for his brother.  He misses his dad and it’s different than it was when he was younger. There we stood looking at the headstone with Dave’s name and picture on it.  It is still so surreal for me.  There we stood broken again, hurting again, missing Dave.  I don’t want my children to go through this…is that selfish?  I don’t want my boys to grow up without their dad…am I asking too much?  I would suffer the pain of losing Dave over and over again through one thousand lifetimes to save them from this one lifetime without their dad.

We made it through the day.  We enjoyed the zoo and time with my brothers and their families later in the evening.  It was an ok day.  It was an ok day, but today I woke up with the sadness again.  I’m tired.  That sad tired that feels draining with apathy running thickly through it.  It is a grief hangover, so to speak.  No motivation, no hopefulness, just tired and sad.  We survived our ninth Father’s day, but I don’t feel good about it.  I just want to take away their pain, my pain…and sleep.

The thing I know is that I can’t walk the journey of grief for my kids.  I can stand beside them.  I can love them all the way through it, but I can’t do it for them or lift it from them.  They will walk the loss of their dad all their lives.  It will be woven through the men they become.  It will hopefully open their hearts to the greater love that only losing someone so dear can bring.  It is in the pure sweetness of experiencing love and the deep ache of loss that something more special, more precious can be received and given…at least that is my hope.

So, as the sadness weighs me down today, I will let it hold me…thankfully, I know it will pass.  I know that I will return to the unexpected life that I am coming to know so well.  I know that with each day of pain, a day of love will be remembered and perhaps a new one built.

I love my boys.  They are my greatest treasure.  I only have them because I had Dave…even that time cut short, even every ounce of heartbreak I have felt, even every night of loneliness I endure is worth it because I have them.  Even when my heart breaks for them, I will endure.  I will endure it and love them more and walk beside them always…even when I can’t make it better.

“Once there was a way…

to get back homeward…once there was a way to get back home.”  Golden Slumbers,  The Beatles

So once there was a place that felt like home.  There was a place where I felt safe, loved, protected…home.  Eight years ago, the door blew open, my love left and my home didn’t feel like home anymore.  That place, that state of being, that knowing and belonging slipped through my hands like sand.  I tried to hold onto it, but it wasn’t possible.  My home, my heart was empty.  This emptiness was to become the deepest, darkest place I have ever experienced.  Every ounce of joy spilled out of me and I was filled to the top with sadness, loneliness and brokenness.  I felt abandoned even though I hadn’t been.  I felt alone, even though I was surrounded by those who loved me.  I felt only pain.  I never thought I would recover.  I sincerely didn’t think I would survive. I knew I would die of a broken heart.

I could never go home again.  I would never be in my safest place again.  I would never be held by him again.  It was over, forever.  It was beyond my comprehension. Home. Gone. Forever.

Looking back, it feels like I slept through the years to survive.  Grief was thick and it filled my waking and sleeping hours.  I longed to be comforted, but comfort never came.  I crawled into bed alone every night, hoping I’d wake to my former life, but that day never came, it never could…there was no way back home.  Even if it didn’t feel like it, I was the only home…home was me…for me, for my boys.

So, for many years, I have been carrying the weight of widowhood.  I have been carrying the weight of sole parent.  I am stronger.  I can handle a heavy load, yet I still long to go home.  I long to rest in his arms at the end of the day.  I still long to have him give me the “don’t worry baby, you’re with me.” I still am bewildered that I do it every day…without him.  Every now and then it hurts deeply again.  Every now and then I have to stop and remember to breathe.  Every now and then, I must stop and remember how good I had it.  I must be grateful for before, during and after.  Some years pass more easily than others, some anniversaries go by and I don’t remember them until they are gone.  This year though…I am remembering that I can’t find my way back home.  There has been so much growth, so much change, I’m not sure I’d recognize the way home even if it appeared magically before me.  How can so much change so radically?

Home was ripped away from us.  He was ripped away from us.

Sometimes, I look back and think that maybe that part of my life was the dream…the part that I just imagined…it seems so far away now…only eight years since his last breath and my life is so different.

It is different because I loved him…not so much because of the tragedy.  It is different because I was changed by his love. I hope he was changed by mine.  I am changed because he trusted me to carry on without him…he knew I could.  I wasn’t so sure.

Eight years ago, I sat on the bed next to him, nursing our baby. While I sat, he was leaving us.  His breathing changed.  I set our baby in the crib.  His breathing rattled and then his breathing stopped.  I laid my head on his chest and his heart beat was gone…so many times in an embrace I had felt his heartbeat, I heard it…this time…it was gone, he was gone, home was gone.

” And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love, you make…”

Whoomp…there it is

I have been feeling pretty good lately, pretty normal…as relative as normal is. I have going through the days happily, enjoying my work, enjoying my kiddos and even added some extra things that I enjoy outside the responsibilities.  Simply stated…life is good.  One phrase I thought I’d never utter again.

So this week, my big boy had a milestone.  He is starting a new phase of his life, a wonderful phase of his life.  He asked a sweet, young lady out on a date.  This is so wonderful.  This is so fabulous! He mustered up the courage, asked, and she accepted.  It is a big deal for him.  Of course, he is totally nonchalant about it.  He came to me and asked me about my schedule for the weekend, told me his plan, and was completely thoughtful about the whole thing.  He shared the whole process with me…and for those of you who know how much I love the process…this was such a gift!

The day came.  We all went our ways for the day.  He asked.  She said yes! When we got home after school, he told me about it.  I am so thrilled for him.  I am a tad nervous about it, but thrilled about it at the same time.

A few hours later, I was back in bedroom alone and WHOOMP!   There it was…my grief swooped in, buckled my knees, and blurred my eyes.  I stood looking out the window as all those widowy feelings consumed me.  I was sad for him, because his dad is not here to guide him through this moment of his life.  I was sad that his dad wasn’t here to hug him and tell him what good kid he is.  I was sad that Dave didn’t get to see his boy turning into a man.  I was sad for me.   I was sad for me because that familiar feeling snuck in and whispered that no one else in the world cares for my boys like I do…and I don’t have him here to share this stuff with anymore.  I miss the joking, the smiles, those parent moments…I just felt so alone again.

My eyes welled up with tears, but no crying came.  My body felt the tension that my sadness can bring, but it did not overwhelm me.  My heart ached, but it felt strong at the same time.  As much as my grief can surprise me, I can withstand it now.  It is like standing in the ocean and letting the large wave come over you and not losing your stance.  It came. I felt it. It hurt, but I am not broken this time.  I held my ground. I let all the thoughts fill my head and then let them exit my mind.  I can let myself miss him like I did in those first moments when he took his last breath and still lead a happy life.  The two have come to some type of odd balance…at least this time.

I reached out to several friends to share my part of my boy’s new dating exploration.  They may not have known that it was one of my survival techniques when my heart is recovering, but maybe they do.  They were open and let me share.  Although it may not be the same as having his dad here to share it with, it was nice.  Being able to have these friends out there that let me process my life, my experiences and see those experiences reflected back to me through our conversations makes a valuable difference for me.  I have to be vulnerable and believe that they care enough to listen and also courageous enough to reach out to them.  It has taken me years to build the courage to reach out to others.  It has taken loving, patient friends who will let me contact them with the mundane…and then just listen and chat about it.  They are kind and let me interrupt their lives with my routine endeavors…that many times seem like daily things, but are big transitions for me.

I love them for that!

So, my big boy will have his date.  I will hold my breath until he gets home to tell me how it went.  Nearly like normal…we will balance our missing Dave with how life is now…and hopefully move toward tomorrow with more love and fortitude in our hearts than we had today.

Courage

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”              Mary Anne Radmacher

Shortly after Dave died, a friend enclosed this quote in a card she sent me.  It has always been very close to my heart since.  It redefined the meaning of courage for me.  I was feeling anything but brave as I faced a world without him.  I was feeling defeated, abandoned, and desperately sad.  Courage seemed so elusive to me, but every night when I fell into bed, exhausted and overwhelmed, I thought of this quote.  I would tell myself that I had made it through another day and that I would indeed try again tomorrow.  Just over 2600 tomorrows have passed since he died.  I have tried every day.  Although, I don’t feel courageous, I have survived.

I’m not sure if this is common with everyone who loses a spouse, but since he died, I mentally struggle with the idea of just running away.  I want to leave this life behind and start completely fresh.  In the early days, I wanted to run away from my pain. Maybe, it is a form of “flight or fight”.  I didn’t want to look at everyday in my life and see the gaping hole that was left by his absence.  Somehow in my mind, it seemed like running would ease the pain.  Well, unfortunately I know that nothing but dealing with the pain and loss eases it.  I never did run away.  I never had the courage.

Day by day, bit by bit, I chipped away at change. I think having the boys made me feel that responsibility to them was more important than change.  I am an oldest child…I always feel responsible…courageous – rarely, responsible – always…

I knew I had to deal with healing their hearts too.  I knew that that would be a lifelong deal.  It was not only my loss, but theirs also.  I wanted to run, but needed to keep things safe for them.  I wasn’t confident that taking them out of  “our life”  would be the best for them.  I have always thought of what was best for them first and what is best for me takes second.

Although my children’s needs always come first, there is still that quiet voice in my head that encourages me to care for myself too.  It wants me to dream again. It wants me to be fulfilled again…because, really, I need to face it, if I don’t model happiness in my home or model following my dreams, how will the boys learn that?  How do I find the courage to follow my own dreams?  Now that I actually am forming dreams and goals for myself again, how do I make these things happen with my two boys in tow?

Leaping is always the hard part for me. Taking that breathless fall into the unknown takes great courage. I have witnessed it in many people that I know in this widowed journey of mine.  I have watched people transform their sorrow into many positive things.  I have seen that you can run away and take your kids with you and everything will be alright.  I have seen many brave women and men do very brave things with their very, broken hearts.  I know it is possible.  I know it.  I just don’t know if I can find the courage to take the leap.