Missing Him

I started to write this blog because I needed a place to just get it down; to let it out; to say what was on my mind.  It started a way to help me deal with my loss and to help me cope.  I don’t know if that’s happened.  I don’t have followers.  I don’t even know if anyone reads it; but still, I write.

In November  – November 12, at approximately 12:25 PST to be exact (how’s that – I used approximately and exact in the same sentence!) – it will be 8 years since Don died.  I miss him every second of every minute of every day.  So much has happened in these 8 years.  We have 4 new grandsons that he did not get to meet.  I left California to move to Arizona.  My dad died; my mom died after a battle with Alzheimer’s (it wasn’t much of a battle – Alzheimer’s kicked her butt).  My oldest brother stopped talking to me because of his wife (long story.  Don would probably have sympathized with my feels of grief over that but would also have said I was probably better off…).  I learned to manage money better (that would have made him very happy and very proud!).  I walked our younger daughter down the aisle.

I find myself asking where do I go from here?  I can only do so much volunteering; I am making new friends and meeting new people all the time, but I only have a few friends here who I’d call “close”.  Not that I had a lot of close friends before he died; he was my friend. For 31 years, he was my center; my friend, my confidant, my advisor, my lover, my everything.  I always knew it wasn’t good to depend so heavily on your spouse because you’ll be lost if they died first – but how can you not?  How can you not put the person you love so much ahead of all else?  I couldn’t.  Don was my world.  Yes, we had friends, and we socialized with other people.

But that isn’t what I miss.

I miss him.

I miss his smile.

I miss his arms.

I miss sleeping next to him.

I miss his lips on mine.

I miss his sense of humor.

I miss his jokes

I miss how he made me laugh.

I miss his call when he left the office each day to let me know he was leaving and coming home.

I miss hearing the garage door open when he drove up.

I miss his calls just to say hi.

I miss how he fathered our daughters.

I don’t miss when he was sick and wouldn’t call the doctor.

I don’t miss all the hospital stays and the surgeries.

I don’t miss how he felt when he wasn’t well.

And I don’t miss what Crohn’s Disease and Cancer did to him.

I don’t miss arguing with the hospice doctor to get him morphine.

That never should have happened, and yes, I’m still angry about it.

But it did happen.  All of it happened.  And now I have to pick myself up and keep moving.

Because if I stop, I’ll just be an old, sad lady who no one wants to see or visit or spend time with.

And I won’t do that to myself, to those who love me.

So I’m going to do my best to renew my focus and put my energy into my art.  I’m going to make art and I’m going to try to sell it.

Which is no easy task these days with so many talented people out there, selling their art.  Which is a whole other blog.

 

 

To Move or Not to Move; That is the Question…

 

I live in Flagstaff Arizona, and I’ve been spoiled by the temperate summers – mostly in the 80’s (and it gets hot in the sun because of our high elevation) and the monsoons – which I love.  The summer thunderstorms, the lightening, the rain and even hail – in July often through September.

In any case my grandsons are not in Flagstaff and when I’m there I miss them.  I miss them so much!  And my daughter.  I miss her, too.  I love my son-in-law, but to be honest I can’t say I miss him (and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t miss me).

When I moved to Flagstaff my daughter suggested I think about moving to Austin to be near them.  But I wanted to be closer to my mom who had been moved to Phoenix.  Then my mom moved back to California and I stayed in Flagstaff.

But I digress (as I often do).  So if I do decide to move here, hopefully I can find a nice rental because I want to keep my home in Flagstaff and I don’t want to have to pay more property taxes or HOA fees and more insurance, etc.

And then there’s the weather.  It’s so hot!  Right now it’s 94 degrees and expected to reach 99.  In Flagstaff it’s 74 with an expected high of 79.

So I’m inside, where I will most likely stay.  I really should be exploring, but to be honest, I don’t want to do it alone.  My daughter is with her kids and they can’t be in the car all day.

After Don died, I was very comfortable doing things alone – because I’d done things alone when he was alive.  But I don’t seem to have the motivation now.  There are museums to see, art galleries, shopping… there’s a quaint town square near where I’m staying, too.  If the weather was cooler, I’d go up there and walk around and just see what’s what.  (I also chose this area for my visit because if I do move here, this is mostly likely the area I’d live in).

And the food!  There are food trucks parked all over downtown Austin.  You can just go and eat your way through town.  And music.  Austin is known for it’s music, so really, I should go out at least one evening and hear some live music.  I love live music.  I have no excuse except that I’m lazy.  And I don’t like to have to drive much.  And there’s traffic here which we don’t really have much of in Flagstaff, so again, I’m spoiled in that way, too.  After spending my whole life in Southern California, you’d think I’d be used to the traffic, but it’s one of the things I was trying to get away from.

So that takes me back to do I really want to live here? I have a pretty good quality of life where I live now, with one exception:  my grandsons aren’t there.

If Don were still here, I would not have been able to come to Austin every few months to visit and my grandsons would not know me at all.

Would I give up what I have with them now if I could have Don back?

In a heartbeat.

I miss him as much as ever, every minute of every day.

I like to think that he’s somewhere that he can see us; that he knows he has these three wonderful grandsons (as well as the two in California) and what a great woman our daughter has turned into.  At least he was able to meet her husband before he died.  For that I’m grateful, because I know he liked him.  As much as a father can like the new man in his daughter’s life…

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Camp Widow

So, I just got back from my third Camp Widow*.  Camp Widow? you may ask.  What is that?  Well, it’s like a conference for widowed people – married, living together, engaged; straight or gay and whatever religion or non-religion you like.

The first Camp Widow was 10 years ago.  So this was their 10th anniversary.  So it was important to me to be there.  I think this was the largest attendance they’ve had.  Camp Widow is held in three different places each year – San Diego, Tampa and Toronto.  There are widowed people everywhere, and there are so many (because, really, how many couples die at the same time, together?).

At Camp, we don’t roast marshmallows or hot dogs over a campfire.  We don’t do crafts or ride horses (all though, riding horses would be a nice outing…).  We listen to other widowed people encourage us, give us hope that life is not over, tell us how to cope and how to make our lives better.  How to honor our loved person who is no longer here with us, and how to keep going.  People who have found a second – or a third – love and have found happiness and joy tell us that it’s okay to love again,  and those who tell us how it’s okay to not look for a second or third love; how to live singly as one person.

Camp, for me, always brings up some sad feelings of missing Don more (again).  But it also helps me to connect with other people and make friends; and see people I only see at Camp.

While I was there, I had a lot of thoughts and some of those led to “I should blog about this…” and now I can’t remember what those thoughts were – because of course I didn’t write them down, even though I thought “I should write that down.”  And they gave us a little notebook and pen in our goody “welcome to camp” bag…

But that doesn’t matter.  I also thought more about my mom I think; she died in February this year, and I really miss her a lot, even though she had Alzheimer’s and I really lost her a few years ago.  But I thought about how she was my strongest support when Don died.  She listened to me; she didn’t try to fix it or make me feel better.   She just listened and empathized, and was there for me.

Sometimes I think there should be a camp for people who’ve lost a child, are grieving the loss of a parent or a sibling.  Grief is universal.  Everyone grieves in their own way, but a lot of us need someone – or something – to help us navigate the waters of grief, navigate on this new journey no one thought they’d ever be going on when they said those wonderful two words: “I do.”

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*Camp Widow is the brainchild of Michele Neff Hernandez, the founder of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation.  Michele lost her husband, Phil, in a bicycle accident, suddenly.  She couldn’d find the support she needed and founded Soaring Spirits.  I think she may have saved my  life by doing so.  You can find out more about this wonderful organization by going to www.sslf.org

 

On Loss – again.

I just got back from burying my mom.  Well, we buried her ashes in my dad’s grave.  The VA cemetery where he was buried in 2012 opened up his grave for his wife to join him.  They will engrave a new headstone; we only had two lines.  One for her name under his, and one for an inscription.  We only had 22 letters to write what cannot be said in 22 letters.  So we ended up with Together Forever.  There is too much to say about this couple.

My mom was the best mom in the world.  She put her family first.  I have 3 brothers, but she wanted a girl so she just kept having babies until she got one – me.  My 3 brothers all said something and so did I.  All of her grandchildren came, and 5 of her 7 great grandchildren; all boys.  Must run in the family, having a lot of boys.  We told funny stories and sad stories and memories of mom and dad.  We all had a different experience of my dad, which is not unusual, but we had very similar experiences of my mom, which is.  It isn’t unusual for siblings to have very different experiences of what it was like to grow up in the same family.  We all have different relationships with our parents.  But not with our mom.  She just loved us, unconditionally.  She couldn’t stay mad at any of us.   At least, not for long.  One day when I was in junior high school, I told her to shut up. She didn’t talk to me for 2 days.  It was one of the worst experiences of  my life, but one of the best things she could do.  I never spoke to her that way again.

Mom died in February, but we had to wait to bury her ashes for a variety of reason.  Her “service” (just family) was the first time I’ve cried since she died.  It’s just weird to think of her not being here anymore.  She was sick with Alzheimer’s for 5 years, so it felt like I lost her a long time ago, in and many ways I did.

Mom became my best friend when I grew up.  We had the usual teenage angst stuff when I was a teenager, and worse.  I was the teen from hell; I was lucky my parents kept me.  But when I matured into a real person, she was like I said, my best friend.  I had many girlfriends who didn’t like their mothers and they were the last person they wanted to spend time with.  I looked forward to seeing my mom.  We talked on the phone a lot, we saw each other a lot.

My dad and I never did get along and it wasn’t until he died that I realized that was because I was his clone – we were both fiercely independent; we were both people who would not listen to authority; we were both “You’re not the boss of me”.  I did the opposite of whatever he told me to do.  I never realized how much we were alike.

Even though we didn’t get along, on some level, I knew he loved me.  He and mom sacrificed a lot of for the four of us kids.  They never hesitated to provide more than what we needed; they gave us pretty much what we wanted as long as it wasn’t just frivolous that is.  They paid for four of us to go to college; they paid for one of us to go to medical school and one of us law school.  They helped us buy houses; they helped our kids reach their dreams for paying for things for them.

And they loved each other.  They married when my dad was 28 and my mom was 18.  She had four kids by the time she was 28.  That’s what they did then.  My father was devoted to her and she to him.  They loved each other and it showed.  My dad was not a demonstrative man, but I remember them hugging each other and laughing at something or other.  When they argued, which was rare, it was behind closed doors.  And like I said, Mom gave everything she had to us.  Not just money; not just love, but she supported us, she believed in us, she encouraged us, she stood by us even when we messed up.  And some of us messed up pretty good – mainly me I think…

Mom was a lot smarter than she thought she was.  She did what her family did.  One of my brothers got interested in golf; she learned to play golf.  One of my brother was interested in flying; she and dad learned to fly.  My mom – the woman who didn’t think she was smart learned to fly a frigging plane!  She learned to fly on instruments only, which is kind of big deal.

I just had to get this all out because if I just keep inside, it will eventually kill me.  And also people wouldn’t know what a wonderful family I had and what an amazing woman my mom was.

Loving Someone who is Lost

What do you do when someone you love is already lost to you, even though they are still with you in body? I am losing my mother to Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s one of the hardest things I do, losing her. It’s one of the most incredibly difficult things to see her slipping away. When I visit her, which is about every 3 months as we live in different states now, she knows she knows me, but she can’t remember from where. So I remind her who I am, and she usually responds with a smile and then with tears.

My mom and I were close when I reached adulthood (I was the teen from hell…). We talked about everything, and we laughed a lot together. When I lost my husband to rectal cancer, she was my biggest source of support. As time went on, she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my dad died a few months later. Now I visit her and we don’t talk much, mainly because she’s lost the ability to speak clearly, but she tries and it takes a lot of effort on her part.

So I’m currently sitting in the airport after my visit with Mom. This trip the first day, she slept a lot – which she does more and more. The second day she cried a lot, but I’m never sure what is upsetting her, so all I can do is reassure her that’s it’s okay – whatever it is. The third day, she slept, she tried to communicate with me, she cried a bit.

Fortunately she has an amazing private caregiver who really does care about Mom, even though she’s living in a board and care home now. It’s hard to see her, especially when she manages to get out the words, “I want to go home” and cries. I understand how she must feel – not being in the home she lived in for over 60 years. The caregiver tells me she no longer recognizes photos of my father. We looked at some old photos together on my visit, and she remembered people from the old photos; but she became too emotional while looking so I put them away.

When I leave from one of these visits, I always feel bad. For one thing, she gets upset when I leave. She doesn’t understand that I’ll be back at some point, but I don’t think she has any concept of time passing. Each day is the same to her. Her caregiver tells me that the day after I leave, she doesn’t remember that I was there. Sometimes, I have to admit, I wonder if would be better if I didn’t visit at all, but I can’t abandon her like that, so I keep going. I talked to my daughter about it, and she said, ‘So what are you going to do… just forget about Nana?” And I can’t do that. She’s my mother; she sat up with me at night when I was sick she stood up for me, she protected me and she loved me enough to keep me when I was being the teen from hell. She always put her family first, before everything else, even herself. She taught me how to have a good marriage, how to be a good mom. She has always been there for me, and now it’s my turn to be there for her.

So for what it’s worth, she’s my mom and she’ll always be my mom, who I love and who I miss so much it hurts my heart and brings tears to my eyes.  My youngest of three brothers lives nearby and is the trustee for her estate, such as it is.  My middle brother visits maybe twice a year, my oldest brother Facetimes with her.  So there we are.  I kind of feel it’s on me and my youngest brother to carry the ball as far as Mom goes.  And I’m next in line to be trustee of the estate if something should happen to my brother.  So I told him not to die before Mom does.  That way I won’t have to worry about taking on that task.

Mothers and Daughters… (sigh…)

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“YOU’RE NOT MY MOM!  WHERE’S MOM??? MOM??? MOMMY??? COME BACK, MOM!!!”

Fair warning:  This post is NOT about grief and loss, but about family and new additions and changes. That being said…

I have to say it.  My daughter is a saint.  Now, we are not religious people and for me to say someone is a “saint” is a big deal for me.  I am at the Austin airport, waiting for a flight that is delayed for two hours.  I just spent a week with my daughter, my two year old grandson and my new 6 week old grandson.  My son in law was out of town for business.  My daughter needed help.  Well, duh, who wouldn’t?  (But even when my son in law is home, as much help as he is, at night, he’s out like a light and doesn’t hear ANYTHING.  And he’s very hard to wake up.  But, he’s there for nap time and diapers and anything else when he’s not working, and I am so happy to say that he is a great daddy.

When I talked to my daughter on the phone after the baby was born, she sounded exhausted.  She was.  When I arrived at their home, she was exhausted.  The two year old (let’s just say tyo – it’s easier than “two year old”) was gratifyingly happy to see “Nana;” he came right to me and I had a wonderful week’s worth of hugs and cuddles and new baby smiles and coos – and tears and tantrums and diapers and “I want my Mom!”‘s that anyone could have in a week. And it has to last me for three or four months before I get down there again to visit. (Yes I would like to live closer, but the state they made their home in gets hot and HUMID in the summer and as my husband used to say, I’m a “delicate flower…”).

My daughter hasn’t been sleeping much because even though the new baby sleeps for 5 – 6 hours at night now, he sleeps in their bedroom and makes a lot of noise in his sleep, and she has trouble sleeping with those sounds.  The birth was somewhat traumatic – his cord was around his neck and it was a shorter than usual cord (whatever “usual” is), so the midwife couldn’t release it before the birth, and while my daughter pushed him out all at once, he was purple when he came out, and she lost more blood than she should have.  All is fine of course; but she realized that she’s listening for him at night because she’s worried.  (Again…) Who wouldn’t be?

So why is she a saint?  Well, first of all, let’s look at a tyo who has a new baby brother.  He was really too young to understand what was happening in Mommy’s “tummy;” he probably didn’t even notice it was getting bigger.  And while they did everything to get him ready – books about a new baby, being the big brother – all age appropriate AND a baby doll (yes, boys can play with baby dolls, although he prefers his cars and trucks) – at first he was very interested in the baby, coming in and saying “hi, Baby!” Now it’s more like, “Hey!  That’s MY mommy and those are MY boobies!” and after spending a week, he was pretty much not all that interested in the baby, except to see how long it would take Mom to notice he was pushing his swing when he wasn’t supposed to…   And like any tyo, he is acting out with throwing things – at people, in which case those things go away and he’s admonished – and not napping and having temper tantrums at every slight, real and imagined. And really, how much frustration tolerance can a tyo have?   And hitting Nana, and sort of but not really bitting, and yelling and screaming in Nana’s ears (please, Nana has already lost some of her hearing…).

But the baby sleeps.  Sometimes he sleeps for a few hours.  When her tyo has a tantrum or is throwing things, if she isn’t nursing and the baby isn’t crying, she gets down on the floor with her first born and cuddles him and kisses him and tells him she loves him and gives him all the attention she can.  When he does something that may put the baby in harm’s way, like pushing on the swing making it go faster, or throws something in the baby’s direction, she tells him he can’t do that, the baby can’t get hurt, or whatever, she gives him the attention he’s craving.  And sometimes, she leaves the room for 2 whole minutes, and comes back and tells her first born that “I love you, and I want to be with you but I can’t let you hurt your baby brother.” When he wants a bath (seriously?  A bath? yes…) because he wants to delay bedtime, or he just wants her attention, she does it, because she knows he needs that attention from her.

Don’t misunderstand me. She doesn’t give in to him, she doesn’t spoil him, she and her husband both understand the precarious nature of being two years old and having your whole life – as you’ve known it – disrupted by a new baby brother.

Now obviously, I’m a mom.  And once you’re a mom, you’re always a mom, for the rest of your life (and when I was pregnant with my first daughter, it hit me – Oh, my G-d… this is FOREVER…). When my second daughter was born, the first was 2 years and 8 months old.  If only I’d known then what I know now (how many times have you heard those words?)  And when she had a tantrum (and there were  A LOT of those…) I didn’t have the patience of a saint.  I had very little, if any, patience at all.  My husband didn’t work at home (did I forget to mention that?  My son in law does, but when he’s working, he’s working).  My husband worked long hours, had a long commute and there were more nights that the kids were in bed before he got home than not when they were little – but, he did change diapers, he sat up with me in the middle of the night when I nursed our first daughter, he did bath time and when I left for work before he did he got the girls to school, and yes, he even did their hair…He was the most amazing father I ever knew; and I could go on and on…   Did I mention that when he was home I had him 200% of the time and he was as much help as anyone could ask for? And a loving husband on top of being a wonderful father.

But when my girls were so little, and maybe when it matters most,  my patience wore thin, fast.  So I didn’t calm my daughter down when she had tantrums and acted out because she had a new baby sister who took mommy’s time from her.  I tried.  When her new sister napped, I played with her.  When dad was home, I took her out, just the two of us.  As they got older, Daddy and daughters had one on one time.  I volunteered in classrooms, I helped with homework, I spent as much time as I humanly could.  When her new baby sister was, well, a new baby sister, she once said to me, “I don’t like her.”  And I said, “That’s okay – you don’t have to like her all the time.”  And they were good sisters, as sisters go (I don’t have any sisters so I’m not the best judge of “good sister”).  They cuddled when they watched t.v., the older one looked out for the younger one, they even shared a room for a while by their own choice.  And they comforted each other.  And then they grew up and went to college.  And the younger one visited her older sister when the older one was in college and the younger was still in high school.  And for a while, the older one was there for the younger one when she needed advice or some such thing.

And I was so glad my girls had each other.  I was glad I had daughters because what mom doesn’t want a daughter? (Well, I’m sure there are some, somewhere.)  We were friends at times, but mostly we were mom and daughter(s).  I would have daughters to look after me in my old age.  When my husband died, they were there for me and for each other.  And when my older one married… well, none of us were happy about her choice.  But I tried.  I really did.  I bent over backwards to make her husband see me as the mother in law who was accepting and caring, and not one he could eventually use against my daughter when he got angry.  But, he did get angry and he did come between us.  Oh, we still talk, but well, that’s another blog for another day.

These days, my girls aren’t very close.  They talk, but not often.  When my younger one needed pregnancy advice, she didn’t get it from her sister.  When she needs help, she can’t count on her sister (but then I’ve learned that neither can I – and again, another blog for another day).  And it breaks my heart.  It breaks my heart more that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

So, I just keep on going.  I keep on helping when I can, I travel more than I’d like – but what is one to do?  I can’t live where my daughter lives – I can’t handle the weather in her state.  I can’t move back to the state where my girls grow up and where I shared my life with the most wonderful man on the planet – at least for me – because I sold our home there and I can’t afford to move back.

And I just keep loving my daughters.  Someone asked me once if I loved one more than the other.  And no, of course I don’t.  I love them each differently.  They are individuals.  They are their own people.  And they are both going to be who they are going to be.  I don’t judge – anymore.  When they were younger, then it was a mother’s prerogative to judge, yes, I did, under the guise of being a parent and protecting them, keeping them safe.  That was my job then. But now?  They’re adults.  They have families and lives.  They have husbands and children and careers.  One works; one is a stay at home mom while her children are little.  One had children even when they couldn’t really afford it; one had children and made the choice that if she and her husband couldn’t raise them themselves, meaning that if one parent couldn’t be home full-time – they wouldn’t have children.  Both of them are wonderful moms.  And I am equally proud of both of them them and the women they’ve become, even if we have our differences.  What mother and daughter doesn’t?

Why I don’t like November

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Today is November 5, 2015.  I don’t like November.  Yes, the leaves are turning, most trees have dropped them if they’re going to, and the weather is beautiful.

Most people love November – it’s a fore-bringer of the winter holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah. Those holidays don’t hold much for me anymore, and I don’t look forward to them.

Thanksgiving usually means turkey, stuffing, all of the trimmings… candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries.  Green bean casserole… peas… rolls or bread of some kind (my mom always made carrot bread)… And of course, pie – pumpkin, apple; my dad liked mincemeat and raisin pie. I could never understand what was so attractive about them – have you every had raisin pie?  Well, I don’t recommend it.

Every family has their traditions, usually carrying on what was handed down from previous generations.  My mom made stuffing from scratch and added dried prunes and died apricots.  I loved it.  Don, not so much.   So when I took over making Thanksgiving dinners, I used a ready-made brand that I just added butter and water to, and stuffed that in the turkey.  It was good, and everyone liked it.

Don’s mom made a standing rib roast on Thanksgiving.  Mashed potatoes, peas, rolls… We often had two Thanksgivings; the “real” one, on Thanksgiving day at his mom and dad’s, and the other one at my mom and dad’s, on Saturday.

Saturday became our family’s Thanksgiving day because when my oldest brother was medical intern, he would work Thanksgiving Day so the married people could be with their families.  When I took it over, it went back to the real Thanksgiving day, and everyone came to our house, which was really nice for our daughters when they were growing up – for the memories it created for them.

And every year Don would encourage me to not do it because was a lot of work, and we had such a little kitchen.

And every year after, I’d say “never again.”  But the following year, the girls would get excited, we’d put the leaves in the table, and we’d use my mom’s good china that she had given me because she never used it.  (She also gave me her jewelry but that’s another post).

Back to why I don’t like November…

Don died in November.  November 12, 2010, at approximately 12:25 p.m.  There are somethings you just can’t forget.  The death of your love, your best friend, your soul mate is one of them.  Some widows and widowers find that time – the time of death – is a blur.  The shock of the loss, they can always remember what they did before and after; especially if the death was sudden.  All deaths are traumatic; even if it means that the one who died had been suffering and is a peace in death, for those of us left behind, it’s traumatic.  Widows (I use the terms “widow” to apply to both men and women, married or not, if one lost their partner) have PTSD.  We cry and sob and have intrusive memories.  We wake from nightmares, looking for our lost love.  We may start to drink; we may stop eating; we may attempt suicide.  We relive the time of death over and over again.  We think “if only I had… I should have… I wish I could have…”

And even when death is expected, it’s still a shock to your system.  I’ve said this over and over but I’ll say it again.  Nothing prepared me for the moment when Don took his final breath.

And this year, the dread and depression of anticipating the date – the anniversary of Don’s death –  started much, much earlier. I’d like to be able to say it didn’t start until October.  But the truth is this whole year has sucked.  Our anniversary February 10; my birthday in April, his birthday in May.  And I know all of it was because November 12 will be 5 years.  There’s just something about that “5”.  Like it’s some kind of milestone or marker.

5 years I’ve been alone.

Within the past 5 years, we’ve had one daughter get married, without Don to walk her down the aisle.

Within the past 5 years, my father in law died.

Within the past 5 years, my father died.

I’ve lost 3 dogs.

We’ve had 3 new grandsons born – in addition to the first one who at least knew Don –  which is wonderful, but bittersweet because Don wasn’t here to share the joy.

Within the past 5 years, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and in a short time – just 4 years later –  has gone from being newly diagnosed with just a few symptoms to being “severe.”  She doesn’t know us most of the time. So I’ve lost her, too. I used to be able to tell her everything.  When Don died, she was my biggest source of support.  She never tried to fix it or make it better.  She just let me cry and listened to me.

Within the past 5 years, my oldest brother stopped talking to me, and I’m dead to him.  But that’s another post…

In the past 5 years, I moved in with my mom to help her and care for her.  I will be forever grateful to have had that time with her.

In the past 5 years, I moved to a new town, initially to be near my mom when she was moved to assisted living and my brother’s made the choice where she should go – and it was out of state. So I moved to this lovely little college town in the mountains, and I love it, but mostly to be closer to my mom who was just 2 hours away.

But…Mom moved back to California, because she hated where she was.  And she is still in California, but at least she’s being better cared for than when she was here, 2 hours away from my little college town. But for me, it’s a 2 hour flight instead of a 2 hour drive.

At least she was happy for a while before she got so ill with this disease.  And it feels like I’ve lost my mom, because whoever is there now isn’t her.  Somewhere, deep inside, I know Mom is still there; she just can’t seem to get out from under that mixed up tangle of neurons we call a brain.

When Don was diagnosed with cancer, I gave up my psychotherapy practice, and my teaching because  I wanted to be available for him and I’ve never regretted that choice.  But I never went back to it, either.  I’m officially retired.

My daughters and grandsons are in different states, in opposite directions from where I live.  I miss them.  I have a brand-new grand baby I haven’t seen yet; I won’t see him until December.  That’s hard.  But my daughter calls and sends pictures.  He’s beautiful, just like his big brother…

November is now a memory of loss.  Of the greatest loss.  Don died November 12; his father died on Thanksgiving day, two weeks later.  My mom was diagnosed in November, 2011.  My dad died in January, 2012, but he got sick in November, 2011.  He died because he wanted to.  One day he said “I’m done; I can’t live like this” (in a wheelchair, dependent on others even to go to the bathroom…) and he went to bed and died 3 days later.  Comfortably, on morphine, in his sleep.  He just stopped breathing.  And I wonder, why can’t I do that?

Because I want to die sometimes.

I won’t, because I can’t leave my girls orphaned.  Even though they are adults.  Even though they have husbands who love them.  Even though they have children and lives and I’m not really needed now as I was when they were little.  And sometimes I just feel useless and unwanted.

When our girls were starting their “grown up lives” – starting college, leaving home, finding jobs,  they needed me.  They needed Don and thankfully he was here then.  My girls are 32 and 35 now.  It sounds so old: to think of them at those ages… but then again, considering I’m 63, it seems so young.

I miss my girls; I miss my mom; I even miss my dad – we always bickered.  But still, I miss him.

So in November, and this one in particular, I am missing a lot.

I am missing Don.  He truly was my soul mate.  People say that – “soul mate”; we use those words.  I never really knew what it meant until Don came into my life.  Because “soul mate” is something you feel inside; it’s not just two words you use to woo someone.  Soul mate – my definition –  Someone one wants to spend the rest of their life with; to share each and every event, every moment with.   And that someone feels the same way about the one.  Don and me; me and Don.  Always, forever.  And I don’t believe death will part us, either.  I don’t want to believe that. I want to think maybe there is another life after this one; that maybe someday when my body dies I’ll be with Don again.  But I don’t know if there is another life or not.  My therapist said I’m still married, and he was right.  I am still married to Don, even if I can’t see him or hear him or feel him.  He’s in my heart forever.

Don was my best friend; the only person I wanted to travel with, do things with, share my bed with and have children with.  And it isn’t fair that he died so young – at 57.  He had a chronic illness, and he had pain.  He was in and out of hospitals for over 30 years.  When he got cancer, I think his body couldn’t fight anymore.  It was just plain worn out.  And when we found out he wasn’t going to live much longer, he was relived that he could stop fighting.  He could just rest, and let go.  And he did.  Three days after we found out he was going to die, he did.  He let go.

And all I want for Christmas is to have him back.  And that won’t happen.  Obviously.  I miss him now as much as I ever missed him.  And I don’t think that “missing” every goes away.  Yes, widowed people find another love, they remarry, and they are happy.  But for a widowed person, mostly we still have that place in our heart for our first true love.  Not the high school crush, or hot-blooded but temporary passion; Our first “true” love, to me, is the person I finally met who I knew I wanted to spend my life with.  My mom always told me I’d know when they right man came into my life.  She was right.

My first “true” love, my soul mate, died. That isn’t to say we – widows – can’t find love again – many people do.  And me?  I don’t think I’ll ever find, or want, that kind of relationship again.  Because I don’t think I can ever stop missing Don or ever stop loving him so deeply.  I don’t think I want an intimate relationship with another man.  A companion – okay, that would be nice.

Because the truth is, I’m so damn lonely.

And that loneliness just makes the hurt deeper.

A Little of What I’ve Learned about Grief

If you are grieving a loss,  you have probably looked for something to provide information about grief; you may have gone to grief support groups; you may have found help on the internet; you may belong to organizations for grief support and healing, and even socializing as a widow or widower.

I find, even after almost five years (on November 12, 2015, it will be 5 years since we lost Don) I still have my moments or my days; I still cry, I miss him as much as ever. I am lonely a lot of the time. No matter how much we do, no matter how we fill our days – weather we are working or retired or we volunteer or spend time with our families – there’s that missing part, that partner we lost, that special person – and there’s still a hole. And I’ve learned this is normal. So no matter how long it has been since your loss, it is okay to grieve as long as you need to, as much as you need to.

I’ve learned that grief is an entity unto itself. There are no nice, neat “stages” for those of us left behind. Those “stages of grief” were written by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who started the Hospice movement in the United States, and she wrote them for terminally ill patients. They were not written for us – the survivors. And we are survivors. And it’s okay to be a survivor.

I’ve learned that just when I think I’m getting past a hard part, another wave will come and pull me out to that sea of grief. This happened much more in the first two years after losing Don. The first year is a blur of meltdowns and wanting to die now.

I’ve learned that at first there’s “business” to take care of. Notifying people, notifying the bank, the credit card companies, insurance companies, etc. People are around. They come to the memorial service; the funeral; the burial; the scattering of ashes; the wake. Slowly, though, friends go back to their own lives. The couple you used to have dinners with now becomes one friend and lunch. Or meeting for a glass of wine BEFORE dinner, but the dinner invitations stop – at least, for some of us. In the beginning you have a freezer of food from friends and family. Then one day, you open the refrigerator or freezer and there’s nothing there. Then you realize you have to market. And that, maybe, you have no desire or will or energy to do it. So maybe you eat out, but you don’t like to eat out alone, or you never have, or you simply can’t tolerate the empty chair across from you. So maybe you go to the market, but nothing appeals to you. After five years, I still hate marketing. It’s just another chore I have to do so I have something in the house to eat. Then when I get hungry, nothing looks good to me. I eat out of necessity. And I drink more wine. I never got to the “tumbler of wine” stage that some people experience. But I do like my glass of wine – or two, or maybe even three – in the evening with dinner (and before dinner and after dinner…). So I’ve learned that eating is more of a necessity than the pleasure it used to be.

I’ve learned that people don’t talk about Don, except for my daughters, unless I bring him up. People don’t know what to say – even after 5 years. People don’t understand we need to talk about our loves. We need to hear their names – we need to listen to stories other people have about them; we need to share our memories with other people. And we need to tell our stories.

I’ve learned that the books about grief seldom match my own journey. And this is a journey. It’s a journey we don’t get past or over or under – it’s a journey we get though. It’s like the Great Wall of China. Unless we walk though a door, we aren’t going to get around it, or like I said, over it or under it. We need to take it one step at a time. And sometimes we take one step forward and two backwards. Or maybe we have a good day, we take two steps forward.

I’ve learned there are a lot of people who truly believe if you don’t express your grief, it will go away. That there are people who can’t talk about it. That people get stuck because they don’t know how to process it. And as a therapist, I’ve learned that no one can fix it for you; they can only listen and offder support. I’ve learned that people simply don’t know what to say. That they want to change the subject because they are uncomfortable with your pain; they want you to be happy, to feel better, and they say things that are often offensive – although they don’t mean to be offensive. So they say, “You’re young, you’ll find love again.” “You’re so strong, you can get though this.” “He was a wonderful man/she was a wonderful woman, but you have to move on.”   I have no doubt you have heard these things, too; if you haven’t, that’s good. It’s even great.

Most of all, I’ve learned:

  • My daughters need me, and will always need me, and as much as I may not want to be here without Don, I could never orphan my daughter’s, even if they are adults with families of their own now.
  • The people who are there for me have always been there for me, and will always be there, as long as they can
  • It’s okay to ask for help. People want to be asked. People who say, “let me know if you need anything…” usually mean it. But do we call and say “Can you come over because I’m having a meltdown and I think I may just die and I need someone to let me cry on their shoulder…” ? No, we usually don’t. But we should.
  • My neighbor of 30 years cared more than I knew because he’d bring in my trash cans just because; he’d drop by just to check on me – and sometimes he’d drop by on my worst days, as if he knew I needed someone to just “be” there with me. I learned to appreciate the people in my life who did things like that.
  • That having grandchildren and being a Nana (please don’t call me “grandma”) is every bit as wonderful and as fun as my mother and all those comics and books and articles said it would be, being here for them is important to me.
  • And I’ve learned that life without Don is pretty much what I thought it would be – lonely, sometimes dark, sometimes unbearable – but that I can bear it. Just when I think I can’t I find something inside of myself, and I get up and I go and make art, and I feel better.
  • I’ve learned that making, or “doing”, art can help me find relief. Art allows me to express myself, and my pain, and the pain lessens each time I express it.
  • Grieving is exhausting work.  Finding a way for it to be less exhausting and still expressing it is good.  Grief is bad, but it’s here, and it may leave at some future date, but for now, for me at least, I am learning to live with it.  It’s like living with a roommate you wonder why you ever agreed to live with, but it just won’t leave – and like I said, at least not right now.

And most of all, I’ve learned that even the nights are not so dark that I can’t see, and the sun still comes up every morning no matter what.

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Photograph by Cynthia Horacek, All Rights Reserved

Rainbows and Gender Identity

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On Sunday mornings I go to a group called the Freethinkers.  It’s a secular group;most of the members are atheists.  I go because I enjoy the discussions.  We talk about current events and trying to find ways to make the world a little bit better.

There are rainbows everywhere in the spring here.  I found it interesting that given there have been numerous rainbows around due to recent rains, our Freethinkers talked about gender equality.  The discussion got pretty heated at times and we talked about everything from raising children in “gender-free” homes – not making an issue of the baby’s gender – whether they are male or female, or yes, somewhere in-between.  Is that possible?   – to people in the group not wanting to be called “he” or “she”.  What do you think about it?

But about raising “gender-free” children: I think that it doesn’t matter what color clothes you put your child in; it doesn’t matter if they have a blue blanket or a pink blanket – if the are going to be active in society – like school and being around other kids – at some point, their gender will become clear to them, and they will most likely fall into the stereo-typical role of male or female.  I was saying that my daughter and I took my grandson, around maybe 16 months of age, to Toys R Us one day.  I picked up a push toy that pops when you push it, and randomly picked up a pink one.  He pushed around for a bit, then turned and went back to the display, put the pink one down and picked up a blue one.  HIs mom and dad are not doing anything to “influence” his gender.  He came home from being born in a pink cap.  His dad’s favorite color is purple.  My grandson may have a pink or purple shirt on at times.  He has a doll.  He has an Elmo doll.  He loves to play with trucks – but so did my daughter at that age.  And that was fine with us.

So, are we socialized towards gender?  If that were true, would you say that the LGBT community is who they are because they were “socialized” to be gay or lesbian, or transgender or bi-sexual?  One person in the group was very adamant about being “gender neutral” in social interactions; not referring to “he” or “she” or “him” or “her…”  Another person countered with being “gender accepting.”  I think I like that better.  I can’t, personally anyway, refer to someone as an “it.”  If I see someone who appears to be a woman or girl, I’m going to refer to them that way.  Same thing for a man.  If someone is transgender and I can’t really tell, well, if they are dressed as a woman, to me they’re a “her.”  Same if someone is dressed as a man.

There was a discussion that no matter what you do as a parent, there are very subtle messages in our society that let a child know that boys and girls are different; they dress different, they behave differently from one another.  That may be true.  I have three older bothers, and my mom made me pretty “girly” i think; I was never a “tom-boy.”  Now there’s a word that is only applied to girls, and it’s okay for a girl to behave more like a boy.  But there’s no such term for a boy who behaves more like a girl, and that’s also not okay for them to behaving more like a girl.  Well, I guess there is a term – it’s “sissy”, and I don’t like it one bit.  If men show their more feminine side, they are automatically assumed to be gay.  If a woman shows her more masculine side, she’s a “strong woman” unless she’s a “dyke” or a bitch, terms men tend to use if they have a woman superior at work and have to take orders from her; however, in opinion both terms are derogatory, and are usually by men who are threatened by strong woman.

I haven’t researched this, so this is all my opinion and based largely on observations. I raised two daughters.  We did not go out of our way to make them “feminine” when they were very young.  Yes, we put dresses on them, and yes they wore pink until I couldn’t stand it anymore and started buying brown, green and yellow onesies, and sleepers, and the things little babies wear.  Notice however, I didn’t go out of my way to buy blue.  Now that I think about I, I don’t think I wanted anyone to mistake my little girls for little boys.  So, when they were 3 or 4 months old, do you think they were conscious enough to notice?  To be influenced?  According to a lot of psychologists and people who study such things, no.  At that age they are too self-centered, appropriately, to notice that.  So when do they start to notice gender related issues?  I have no idea.  When they start school?  When they watch Sesame Street and cartoons?  When someone simply uses the term girl or boy?  I’m sure someone out there has done the sociological research on this, and there’s an answer out there somewhere.

I will say this:  one day when my daughter was about 4, and I was taking both of the girls out of the back (the younger was about 18 months, my 4 year old asked me when she was going to get her penis (I told my husband we had to start wearing clothes around the kids…).  And I said something very NOT gender neutral, and probably sexist:  I told her she didn’t need a penis, because she had a vagina and that was better than a penis.  Being 4, she didn’t question me.  Sexist? Gender identification inducing?  Well, I think sexist, yes.  Gender inducing, no, because I do think we are born with our gender identity.  If some is born with the wrong gender, they know it from a very early age.

For now, I’ll just say I’m glad people who love each other, regardless of gender, can finally be together legally with all of the rights and benefits bestowed upon married couples.  I hope it isn’t overturned some day, and I hope we don’t drop the ball and just kick back because this one law has been changed.  I also hope that the same thing applies to abortion.  I hope women don’t lose their right to choose what is best for them, as individuals.  I guess I should have said “right to chose” vs “pro-life.”  I once read a bumper sticker that said “just because I’m pro-choice doesn’t mean I’m anti-life…”

Enjoy your day.  It just rained here, so I may go out and look for rainbows…

Loneliness… what to do?

I’m so damn lonely.  That’s probably not the best way to start a post… why would you want to read it?  The thing is, people – including my shrink – will tell me I need to get involved more; I need to be more active; I need to find more friends… but at the end of the day, no matter how busy I am, I still come home to an empty house.

I find myself talking to strangers.  I trap people I don’t even know in stores because most people are too polite to just walk away from the crazy lady telling them her life story.  I wouldn’t blame them.

We are so polite most of the time.  A serial killer could be talking to us and most of us would be too polite to say, gee, I have to go now… and walk away.  Most of us; not all of us.

I try to contain myself; I really do.  But it’s so hard when there’s no one to talk to on a regular basis.  Like daily.  I can go days without talking to anyone or even seeing anyone sometimes.  I think I could probably die in here – in my home – and no one would even know until my body started to smell.  But then, even the neighbors aren’t close enough to smell me…

Just recently I ran into a neighbor walking down the street – she was walking, I was driving, so I guess it you were to take that literally it would sound like I actually ran into her with my car – and I pulled over to say hello.  She said “T…and I were just talking and saying we hadn’t seen you in a while…”  so of course, I’m thinking, gee, did you ever think to call me or stop by just to make sure I wasn’t laying on the floor in my own excrement??? Or that I was maybe not dead or needed help or anything???

Don’t  misunderstand me; I don’t expect anyone to be responsible for me.  But if you haven’t seen me in a while, and you usually see me out walking around, or if you’re used to me stopping by and it’s been a week or so, maybe something’s wrong?  I always tell a few people I trust when I’ll be out of town so that’s not an excuse.  And I don’t mean to blame anyone.  People have their lives; they have families; they are busy.  Good for them.

So I took my shrinks advice when he said there are several organizations in town that would be very happy to have someone with your skills and talents as a volunteer… (he has to say I have skills and talents because well, he’s my shrink…I once had a client stop coming to me because when she said she thought she was attractive, I didn’t immediately jump to agree with her.  Actually, I wanted to suggest maybe some makeup would help… but that’s not very therapeutic, either…)

So, here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, just lonely.  I had a day that was full enough to tire me out.  I still have to cook dinner, which I suddenly really don’t feel like doing… but it’s fish and I need to cook it…the problem is, I would really like to have someone to share it with.  But there just isn’t anyone.  Oh well.

I figured out that I don’t like going to the market because Don and I always did the marketing on Saturday mornings together.  So I guess going without him still doesn’t feel quite right to me.  And I don’t like trying to buy food for one.  It’s hard to find single-sized servings of stuff, unless it’s frozen dinners.  And I get tired of those, as easy as they may be.  And again, I digress…

People tell me to get a pet.  I would love to have a dog.  But I have issues about leaving a dog home alone.  I think I’m projecting my own feelings about being alone.  Still, I worry about things like, what if I’m sick and I can’t walk it?  What if, what if…. my life seems to be full of what if’s lately.  And so many people just don’t worry about that.  If I thought I could deal with training and housebreaking, I’d get a puppy.  But then, I travel so much, and I wouldn’t always be able to take a dog with me, and then boarding and all get’s costly, not to mention vet bills. So I thought about a cat, but I’m allergic.  And I thought about a bird, but a parrot would probably outlive me, and I don’t really want a parakeet… oh well.  And birds can be very messy… So for now, maybe no pets.  But I would really like to get another dog.  I think I’m afraid of getting attached and something happening.  Over the past 4 and ½ years, I’ve had 4 dogs.  Two of them came together, but sill…

So, it’s lonely.  I can try to get up the energy to go and do something, but it doesn’t matter if there’s no one to do it with.  How do people deal with this?  It sucks.

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