Spring Forward; Fall Back

barefoot-hikeLast October, the calendar said I graduated. No cap and gown necessary. Completing a year of ‘firsts’ after my husband died was the only requisite for graduation. A friend who reached that mark herself not long before, warned me that the ‘second year’ can feel even worse than the first. Good talk. Seriously, this year wasn’t bad enough? How hard could the second year be?

Let’s just say I hate when people are right, don’t you?

Last year I put all my energies into ‘doing’, not being. And all the distractions worked fairly well to push me through those hellish 12 months. Gradually though, all the ‘first’ holidays, birthdays, big and small family events were put away, like that bulky down coat when spring finally settles in. And then you wake up with a thud in the real’ zone, loudly reminded that the one you love is Not. Ever. Coming. Back. I realize that’s not exactly breaking news but in the first year you shoved that little fact up on the shelf until you can handle it better. Spoiler alert: When the smoke finally clears, it’s still there — grief 2.0.

You found out the hard way, that there’s no short cut, or quick path through grief. Yet, you pushed through, cuts, scrapes and thorny brush because when you’re in the real zone you have no other choice and no GPS to help you navigate.  Richard Branson quipped that “If you find yourself stuck in the middle, there’s only one way to go – forward.” Good plan.

Things will never be what they were – neither will you. That’s what the ‘real zone’ is all about. Once the last shreds of the smokescreen are stripped away, the reality of the missing is exposed. The emotional and physical connection we had with the one no longer here is starkly visible. Continue reading

I Miss . . . Me

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 11.37.56 PMThe girl I used to be (okay, ‘girl’ might be a bit generous) has been AWOL for some time. The kid who sang, not perfectly but at least on key, and loved to dance could be a lot of fun. Divorce, single motherhood, and a lot of tough times shaped her appreciation for every and all moments of joy. As she slowly discovered her true self, she kinda liked what she found but she also uncovered a healthy dose of protective skepticism. That skepticism might have precluded the urgency to get married again — but one guy blew all her fears out of the water. And despite her best efforts, she became a wife again.

Even with the boatload of medical challenges that came with our “I do’s”, I was suddenly, unequivocally and authentically happy. That is until the one night the man whose unconditional, profound love made me a believer — died in a heartbeat. The love boat I had neatly packed with all I had become — capsized. And I’ve pounded the treadmill of ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ ever since.

Yet, if I had to take my emotional temperature right now, I’m not sure I could decipher the results. I’ve never been here before. But, as Lewis Carroll said “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then”. Duh. Since that terrible October night, Pollyanna has been in full makeover mode and it’s not always pretty. That’s not to say I don’t grudgingly appreciate the woman I’ve been slowly becoming; she’s actually not all that bad, sometimes even bordering on cool. Her head is a little messy sometimes (I don’t mean just my hair; my war with that is legendary) and at moments, she can get a little off-track and teary. But with no Fodor’s guide for grief, she’s doing the best she can. She may not be crushing it but she’s doing pretty damn good at practicing.

Married life is never static — for anyone. It doesn’t hold steady at one temperature every single day. The changing weather of just being human makes sure life isn’t a constant fluffy bliss ball. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself for the profound happiness right next to you; other times the pinch is more like ‘what was I thinking’. In the end, the right marriage to the right person is a ride you never want to end. That’s why it sucks the big one when it does. Continue reading

You Gotta Friend In Me

Friendship“You’ve stood by my side when any monkey in his right mind would have flown away.
The Great and Powerful Oz

To say my friends are a blessing is an understatement; in fact, I hit the friendship jackpot! All my life, friends have challenged and inspired me, shown unconditional love when times have sucked and been there with wine when they’ve been happy. My friends laughed with me, but even more importantly, they cried when crying was all I could manage. This post is a long due thank you to all my buds (and family) who’ve seen me without make-up, without words, and without a clue — and somehow love me anyway.

Marlene Dietrich once commented that it’s the friends you can call at 4 am that matter. I love mine way too much to test that too often, but I totally get it. When grief came calling, nearly every one marched right in and never left. That’s a pretty big deal. Grief is no picnic even for those on the periphery. Heck, if anyone sucked into that dark funnel cloud had a choice, we all would opt for door number two. But we had no choice; our friends do.

I think Oprah put it pretty well when she said “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” Even the most super deluxe limo can break down, and if it does, you might just land in a ghost town where you don’t even speak the language. Awkward. When life-changing events come calling, even the closest friendships can be challenged. Maybe they’re daunted by the hurricane of your desolation and just don’t know what the heck to do for you. Some friends are too afraid, some will exit stage left and some, those strong, plucky souls, will bring you grace. No one can stop the storm but if we’re lucky, friends and family walk through it with us.

Unfortunately, there may be friends, even family members, who just won’t get it. I suspect that before own own knee-capping loss, many of us were also clueless. Having been rocked years ago by my brother’s death, I should have been more enlightened. Oh,  I did the wake, sent the cards, flowers, donations, hugs and said all the right things but I still didn’t know what I know now. The funeral is just the beginning. Continue reading

Bad Hair Day

BadHairDay

Full disclosure: I am a hair freak. Anyone who knows me can tell you I am a royal pain about my hair — and always have been. Winter hats and good hair days don’t mix; neither does humidity, which obviously precludes southern living. And hair is the reason I’d never get a convertible.

A friend, used to hearing my sudden outbursts about needing a haircut NOW, once perceptively asked ‘what’s wrong?” What? Nothing’s wrong – except my HAIR! But, after we hung up, I thought about it.  She was right. Yes, it IS all about my hair.

All over the world, hair documents different life phases, from personal evolutions to ways of expressing life events. In a weird way, hair, every single strand of it, echoes life, death and rejuvenation. People worldwide express grief and sadness through their hair, either consciously changing it or completely losing it during a life crisis. (No, I’m not talking about bad haircut grief – that’s another tale) The Sioux cut off all their hair in a time of mourning, (sorry, honey, but no, not even for you.) Celts believed hair had magical powers and the Cree claim hair is another part of the soul.  Now that would almost justify my fixation.

When things in my life are most out of control, I’ve always wanted to just grab a scissors and snip away.  No, I’m not THAT crazy but I have been known, to my hairdresser’s chagrin, to make little ‘tweaks’ when her calendar is booked. What could go wrong? Normally, I remember to “keep calm and call the hairstylist’ but you know those days when you just have to have chocolate NOW? Well, substitute hair. Continue reading

He Lost His Marbles

marbles2My husband’s passions netted a heck of a lot of ‘stuff’. No, not just a few things – an entire room of them! Along with his legendary toy soldier collection, he also amassed authentic reproductions of antique planes, old tops and more marbles than the entire planet could play with. But his menagerie of little planes, soldiers and marbles kept the boy alive in the man I loved. Okay, it was a money pit but who can put a price on a passion? Or measure the innocent happiness it gave a guy who went through constant medical challenges. When Dr. Suess said said “Adults are obsolete children” he probably knew that sometimes child play is exactly that we need.

I am not wired with a collector’s brain. When I saw my guy’s glee over in yet another new soldier or collector’s marble, I confess it often hit my ‘crazy button’. In my world, especially during my time as a single mom, necessities always trumped disposable expenditures. There was no room in a home where three growing kids needed new underwear, sports fees or the million other endless expenses for the frivolous. Even as an empty nest boomer now, there still isn’t. But these days, I think more and more that maybe I just never had the yen for a passion. Like all busy mothers and wives, I never had much time to think about exploring my ‘passion’ but at my age now, it’s if not now – when?

The 64 thousand dollar question? What IS my passion? Sure my mind swirls constantly with tons of ideas. My DIY list is chock full of stuff I could, should, might be doing. Write a book? Why not? Unearth those colored pencils and illustrate again? I can do that. Take my ancestry search on the road to discover my roots? Learn to finally use my tricked-out camera? Yes, please. Every one is a passion contender, one that could easily become an obsession. Uh oh. Continue reading

To Group – Or Not To Group.

Health-Life-Preserver-1024x710“I don’t want to belong to any club that wants me as a member.” Good ol’ Groucho Marx pretty much hit the nail on the head about my reluctance to join groups. Just ask my hefty posse of friends who know me all too well. They’ll tell you I’m just not much of a joiner type. It has nothing to do with the groups. Maybe I’m just allergic to meeting minutes, or having to commit to regular times on the calendar. That being said, though, I have made exceptions.

After my husband died, my church’s pastor suggested I jump into my parish grief support group, so I went – once. To be fair, it was a good idea in theory and there were lovely people there. They also seemed a lot older and their memories longer since their entire adult lives were spent with one partner. Still, I could have worked with that, since grief is always a common denominator. No, the deal breaker was the fact that the meeting was held in the same exact room my husband and I sat for 9 years when we ran a cancer support group. Fidgeting a few spots away from the very same couch we sat on, month after month as facilitators, I kept glancing at the now empty space. I couldn’t help envision my husband, animated, always gracious and thinking to myself ‘what the hell am I doing here?’.

I couldn’t leave fast enough.

Continue reading

Live the Dash

DASHBorn. Died. He was here – and then he wasn’t. For every name in the cemetery, what separates the dates of birth and death — is a dash, a line that connects all the living in between. A dash not only separates a whole bunch of years but also connects all we were meant to be. At least that’s what we hope for anyway.

A dash says ‘you were here’. You toddle around in diapers, go to school, run headlong into becoming an adult. And then what?  Dates of graduation, wedding, children born are markers that all fall into the living. Jobs are listed on resumes, annotated with a succession of start and end dates. Even vacations are hyphenated periods of time we set aside to explore and relax.

How about marriage? The years spent with the person we marry carry their own dash. Sometimes they stretch far into the horizon; other times years can only be the length of an eyelash. However long or short, the dash attaches pieces of our all parts of our lives. Fortunately, even though my husband and I didn’t get much mileage out of the dash that strung our marriage years together, we had a small but pretty cool chunk of the ‘before’. Now the dash is in my court.  And, at the moment, I can’t predict what it will say about me. Continue reading