2020, The Next Right Thing

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, I never have been because I can make a fresh start at any time, beginning a new chapter can occur on any random Tuesday, or Wednesday or in the middle of any month on the calendar.  Why wait?  If my mind is set, then I should do it!

That said, I do like to theme my years.  I typically have a word or a phrase that I try to incorporate into my daily life for that year.  One year, 2012, the phrase was appropriately “fake it ’til you make it.”   In 2013, the phrase was simply “be relevant.”  One year, I had a close friend fighting for her life with breast cancer…the phase that year, which I applied to my own life, was “C is meaner than cancer!”  Needless to say, that was year that I was finally angry over the death of my spouse, it was a contentious year indeed.  This year, 2020, I have stolen something I heard our pastor say, “do the next right thing.

I have given this quite a bit of thought, DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.  The way I see it, it can be broken down and viewed several ways:

  1.  When I don’t know what to do in any given situation, I should do the next right thing.  If I can’t figure out what that is, then I am overthinking or thinking too hard.  I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems, not even my own, just do the next right thing that presents itself.  It may be as simple as opening a door for someone, or offering a smile to a sour face as I walk past.
  2.  Do the next right thing can mean skipping the criticism.  Just because I think something is true, doesn’t mean it needs to be said.  If it offers no true value and is hurtful to someone else, it is NOT the next right thing.  This can also mean being mindful of the HOW in the things I express.  If the truth I am speaking has value and needs to be said, think about HOW I am choosing to express it.  Leave out the insults, in actuality they will diminish the point I am trying to make.  One of my favorite quotes ever is from Bishop Desmond Tutu, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”  Honestly, I wish I remembered this more in my day to day life.
  3. Do the next right thing can be an expression of self care.  Taking care myself is so important, especially during a journey of grief, rebuilding, and maintenance.  Do things that make me feel a moment of peace or joy or give me a feeling of accomplishment.  And this task can vary from day to day.  Some days it is a simple as taking a shower, while others can mean I spend a day compiling and filing my taxes.  It can be getting a pedicure or organizing my closet.  Anything that makes me feel like you did something for myself, something good, even if only for a fleeting moment.

Do you know what you do, after you do the next right thing?  You DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.  Keep it up, like putting one foot in front of the other.

That is MY plan for 2020.

*special thanks and credit to Rob McDowell for my phrase of the year.

 

Fa, la, la, la, la, and all that goes away…

I have actually been dreading this post for the past two weeks.  The holidays, specifically Christmas, what a really complicated subject in the grief journey.  Hold tight and bear with me as this post may turn out to be an utter mess, as I vomit profusely, and undoubtedly irratically onto the perverbial page.

I’d like to say I have all the answers, the roadpath to survival, but I don’t.  No one does. This journey is unique to the individual, and I honestly believe that no one can navigate it seamlessly nor unscathed.

To start, I need to describe the holidays, pre-death.  The holidays were not my husband’s favorite time of year, at least not until A was born, then he grew to love them and the many traditions we embraced.  Every year, since A was born, we spent Christmas at home, and hosted the event.  We had no family nearby, so a spectacle it became, because we housed family and friends for days leading up and beyond Christmas Day.  What this entails are many meals, breakfasts, snacks, cleaning, organzing, planning…  Those who knew me then would not be surprised to know that I used a binder with tabs to keep it all together.  A binder with shopping lists, plans, recipes, and even timing for when to cook what and how long it needed to be in the oven.  Let’s just say, this was a big endeavor.

There were many traditions, like my family’s secret egg nog recipe (which today has never been beaten), we baked the same cookies every year, served a Polish feast on Christmas Eve, followed by a big breakfast on Christmas day, a plethera of snacks during the day, and ALWAYS beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner.  My parents and his father were always there on Christmas morning, the other guests changed from year to year, sometimes friends, sometimes family, but we welcomed everyone with open arms.  We hung out all Christmas Day, watched football, played board games, watched A Christmas Story, etc.

Christmas was a day was always fun.  There was always some sort of adventure.  Like the year my husband recieved a pastry torch as a gift, we drove around to any store that was open on the 25th to see if we could find heavy cream so he could make creme brulee.  (by they way, there was none to be had)  But it was fun trying…

The first year…Many people, if you read books, articles, and blogs, have so much to say about the holidays the first year.  Some say this is the hardest year, others say the second and third years are harder.  Both, in my findings, are accurate.  In some ways the first year is the hardest, you have traditions that now seem shallow, you have no energy to go through the motions, and let’s face it, getting through the holidays the first time around are just going through the motions.  But in other ways it may be easier than the years to come because the first year you may be just a little numb, and the people in your life are less sensitive to your emptiness as time goes by.  In my case, the first year, I pretty much canceled Christmas.  There would be no out of town guests, no big fancy meals, not even very many decorations at all.  I put up a tree and hung the stockings.  That’s it.  This was a year to re-group.  To maybe find some new traditions.  This was the year that the Christmas light experience first began.  We packed into the car, wearing pajamas, and drinking cocoa to look at all the festive lights in the area.  We googled the biggest light shows and set our course.  We may not have decorated our own home, but our season was still filled with lights and celebration.  This is a tradition we have continued to this day.  The first Christmas was hard, calm, without any chaos, but also without the adventure.  It was easy, and yet hard.

Subsequent years have been ok, not great, a bit lack luster to say the least.  Still hard, maybe harder, having lost some magic.  But we are forging ahead.  I no longer enjoy the shopping or the wrapping, the baking, the planning, the cooking, nor the entertaining.  A and I have found that watching the happy, sappy seasonal movies on Hallmark passes the time well. I still only decorate the mantle and the tree (for the most part), but did manage to make cookies this year.  Here is the funny thing.  I actually have not made one single Christmas cookie from my usual repetoire, all different cookies.  What does that say?  Well, I am not an actual psychologist (I just play one from time to time), but just maybe I am still avoiding the season, if even in just a culinary dessert fashion.

*On a happy note, I found a gingerbread recipe that rocks!  ūüôā

 

“What’s up with the tiara, are you special or something?”

August 23, 2012, my birthday and a little over six months since my husband’s passing, I declared it to be the Year of Jennifer. ¬†As I have stated, I hated the new normal and was dead set on picking myself up and forging a new path. ¬†With this new me, I became adorned with a new accessory…a sparkly tiara!

You may find this strange, odd, funny or ridiculous. ¬†I don’t care. ¬†This tiara got me through the year. ¬†I could be seen wearing this tiara at the office, on the couch, my back deck, and yes, in public!

I wore this tiara on vacations (to the beach, to California), holidays, 5k runs, my high school reunion, and I even wore it to a business meeting with a vendor, who was gracious enough to wear one too!  We even had a Tiara Tuesday at work, many of my fellow co-workers celebrated, including our CEO, we all sported the glitzy glam for a day.

Funny, true story…I went to packed concert with a friend, we both had on our tiaras, and after the concert, a we were fighting the masses to exit the arena, a woman stopped me and posed a question. ¬†“What’s up with the tiara, are you special or something?” ¬†All I could do was reply proudly, “Why yes, yes I am!” ¬†I giggled, offered no more information than that, and pushed my way past the crowd.

In that instance, I WAS special.  No one knew what my year had been like, that I was a new widow, and struggling to get through most days.  They saw confidence (brought on by the tiara) and that was all.  It was a great night!

To this day, many of my profile pics on various platforms, I appear with my tiara.  It is still an important part of me and I will revert to the empowerment it gave me from time to time.  My original tiara actually broke.  It broke because it was well loved and recieved tons of use.  It had traveled well and lived a good life.  My daughter knew how much that tiara meant to me, so when my tiara expired, she was so kind as to give me one of hers.  So the spirit of the tiara could live on.  How sweet is that?

All hail the tiara!

 

 

 

I don’t recognize this person, who am I?

“You will never be the same again…” ¬†You hear that, but what do you think about it really? ¬†Of course there are events in your life that have lifelong impact, like the birth of a child, a wedding, the death of a loved-one, etc…. ¬† These are life-changing events that will impact day-to-day forever…all true. ¬†Believe me when I tell you that the changes go much deeper….and they are not temporary….these are permanent changes to who you are and who you will be, and will modify you at your core. ¬†I have actual proof.

I am not just referring to surface changes. ¬†Changes to parts of your life that are obvious, like when you have a baby, your life in the every day needs to be about caring for the child. ¬†I don’t mean, when you lose a spouse, you need to figure out how to deal with everything in your life alone. ¬†Those are surface items, things that change the day-to-day. I am talking about your personality, who you are.

Yes, I have ALWAYS moved through life with a healthy dose of sarcasm. ¬†I was raised in sarcasm, therefore it has always been a part of who I am. ¬†Now, since my husband’s passing, that has not changed, however, I have added a generous dose of cynicism that wasn’t there before. ¬†It is harder for me to see the shimmer of joy that comes with the holidays, or the glimmer of optimism and hope that come with a compliment or friendly gesture from a friend. ¬†I don’t mean to be offensive, I just struggle sometimes with the positive because I am always waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

But it is more than that, and let us not forget, I did promise proof.  Honest to goodness proof.   Well hear this:

Many, many years ago (in a land far, far away), my employer conducted personality tests to help establish working relationships between employees and their next level managers.  The assessment is the DISC, a well-known personality test that identifies strengths and weaknesses and gives guidance on how best to work with the individual. It is designed to be shared with management and for management to share their own profile with their direct reports as well.  It is a tool to help manage and communicate more effectively.  It identifies a persons personality traits in four categories (DISC).  This is a brief , simplified explanation:

  • D – Dominance = how we respond to challenges and solve problems. ¬†People with a high “D” are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, they can be demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong-willed, determined, aggressive, etc. ¬†Low “D” are less active, more conservative, low-keyed, cooperative, mild, agreeable, etc.
  • I – Influence = how we influence others. ¬†People with high “I” influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. ¬†Low “I” scores influence others by data and facts rather than feelings.
  • S – Steadiness = People with a high “S” work best in a steady environment and dislike sudden change. ¬†They are calm, relaxed, patient, deliberate, etc. ¬†People with a low “S” like to work with change an variety. ¬†They tend to be impulsive, eager, and impatient.
  • C – Compliance = Those with a high “C” are the rule followers, prefer structure, and are exacting, precise, neat, and tactful. ¬†Those with a low “C” are more stubborn, opinionated, and not detail-oriented.

I took this test several years prior to the passing of my husband.  And for people that have known me, they will see that the results were not surprising in the slightest:

I scored super-high on Compliance, preferring structure, organization, and precision. My next highest mark was Steadiness, given that I like to operate in a calm more relaxed environment.  I held a marginal score on Dominance making this a fairly neutral trait. And I scored extremely low on Influence, showing that I prefer facts and data (PROOF), to emotion and lots of hype.

And then my life changed….and with it, so did my personality…the person you knew, …the person I knew…no longer exists…

The second test was taken a year after my husband passed.  My new personality shows me with a high I, high C, and high D, with a marginal S.  Talk about different, but accurate.  I am much more demanding, forceful, and aggressive.  I tend to be high in emotion and expression, rather than conservative.  I have the flexibility to work at either a steady pace, or within chaos.  The one thing that is holding true from the old me is that I continue to be exacting, precise, and detail-oriented.  Basically, I have lost most of my reason, and can now be hell-on-wheels.

What does all this mean?  What can I learn from this?

  1. People can change and adapt as a result of major change in their lives.  Not just surface changes, but deep down personality changes.  Changes to who they are and how they function.
  2. I am less rational and more driven by my emotion than ever before.  I have learned to push for what I want, and for what I think is right.
  3. I still prefer details, structure, and facts, but with less patience and go after things with more passion to add to the data I present.

“Time is of the essence”, people say all the time “don’t waste time” and to “go for what you want.” ¬†“Spend time with those you love.” ¬†“Don’t be complacent nor passive.” ¬†They are more right than they realize. ¬†I would have to summarize this post by saying that I have learned the importance of what matters and try not to waste my time on the things that don’t.

I am jaded and skeptical, a sarcastic cynic.  Take it or leave it, I make no apologies.  Love me for who I am now, not for who I used to be.

The term “widow”

Before I jump way ahead of myself, let’s define the word widow, dictionary.com defines it as such:

widow – (noun) a woman who has lost her spouse by death and has not remarried.

There you go, basic, simple, and so totally wrong. ¬†Therein lies my problem. ¬†Does re-marrying make my first husband come back? ¬†Does it erase him from my life? ¬†NOPE. ¬†I call myself a remarried widow, in my mind, I will alway be a widow. ¬†Just because I am married now doesn’t mean I didn’t lose my first husband. ¬†It doesn’t make everything better, nor does it make grief any easier…actually it just makes it more complicated.

So now that that is settled, we can move forward with the term¬†widow. ¬†What is it about this word, or the fact that I lost my husband, that makes people uncomfortable? ¬†Their eyes immediately get this look, this look of pity, as they apologize for my loss…even years later. ¬†I dont typically skirt around the subject when I am meeting someone new, I don’t advertise it or anything, I don’t skywrite it as something that defines me, but I don’t hide it either. ¬†I am going to be brutally honest (at the risk of offending some people), when I say, I would rather people know that I am widowed than assume I am divorced. ¬†As if that somehow makes my situation better. ¬†In all honestly, it doesn’t, both are hard situations to be in, and I have mad respect for people who live through the disolution of a marriage. ¬†I just don’t feel the two should be lumped together, nor even compared to each other. ¬†They are, in fact, quite different, and pose different challenges.

Widowed with an 8 year old child is a challenge. ¬†Especially when you live in a city 6 hours from the nearest relative. ¬†Think about it. ¬†No shared custody, so everything relies on you. ¬†No breaks, no nights off. ¬†Sure there are no custody battles nor child support discrepanices, but there is also no custody arrangement nor child support at all. ¬†Your life is filled with PTA meetings, taekwondo belt testing, basketball games, gymnastic competitions, and many nameless public events where you can actually SEE and HEAR people point you out in crowd, “she is the one who lost her husband…” ¬†You do these things for your child to maintain some sort of normalcy in her day-to-day life, in spite of the awkwardness that eventually turns into anger and bitterness toward the other parents. ¬†I was able to restrain myself on most occasions without confronting the lookiloos and gossip mongers…on some occasions, …I may or may not have put them in their place (oops). ¬†I am not a perfect widow.

When you are the sole legal guardian with no other parent to speak of, there comes a carefulness and caution that now surrounds your life like bubble wrap. ¬†A lot of explaining that needs to happen with the school system and teachers, doctors offices, and anywhere where they request two legal guardians be listed. ¬†There is a trepidation that takes over everytime you have to board a plane to travel for work. ¬†You are the only one left. ¬†You can’t be responsible for orphaning your child. ¬†These are all fears that plague my mind at times. ¬†These are all defined by being a widow, remarried or not.

And then there is the status of¬†“widow.”¬† By status, I am referring to all the labels awarded to people on social media. ¬†The days of pause I gave to changing my¬†“married”¬†status … to what? ¬†Widow? ¬†Single? ¬†There were no labels I liked. ¬†For a long time, I eliminated the label from my profiles altogether. ¬†Then I finally settled in with¬†single. ¬†When it came right down to it, I reverted to the safety of¬†single. ¬†If someone wanted to know more, they could ask, right? ¬†Why advertise? ¬†And afterall, it is social media….blah, blah, blah.

widow (redefined) Р(noun) a woman who has lost her spouse by death. 

Widow, a term that doesn’t define who a person is, just a situation they found themselves in. ¬†Again, this is a club that no one wants to join, but once you’re in, you are a member for life.

 

 

“Stages of Grief” and why K√ľbler-Ross can bite me

The 5 Stages of Grief….this is some intellectual crap that was pulled together to try to make logical sense from a situation and that makes no sense and contains no logic.  Elizabeth K√ľbler-Ross developed these five stages:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  I am here to tell you that while all of those stages are real enough, so real that anyone can feel them in any order at any point in their life, not just with grief…kind of like a fortune in a cookie or a generic horoscope that applies to just about anyone.  But before I criticize too much, let’s review just what these stages are*:

  1. Denial – Where the grieving wanders through life as if nothing happened or refusing to believe it has.  This was more of an initial state of shock, in my case.  I did not deny what happened.  I was painfully aware, everyday, that my husband was dead.  No denial, but shock, there was that…a kind of fog that surrounded me, making me forgetful, zoned-out, and wandering through the first couple of weeks in a daze.  So if that is DENIAL, the YES
  2. Anger – This is where the person grieving is angry at the God, at the world, etc.  This is the stage I thought I knew what to do with.  I am good at anger.  I can be productive in anger.  But this is also the stage that never really came.  At least not early on in my journey, not in any conventional way.  I appreciated the people in my life, I was not angry with them.  I leaned in to God, I did not blame.  This was an elusive stage.  ANGER, compicated, more to come later on this one
  3. Bargaining – In this “stage” people contemplate the “what-ifs” and bargain with the world …”if I focus more on the good or do better, can you make this all a bad dream?”  (And guilt typically accompanies with bargaining)  Honestly, I dont get it. BARGAINING, nope
  4. Depression – This is not necessarily the depression the mental illness (unless that is a part of your history) this is more of an extreme feeling of loss, and only natural after the passing of a loved one.  This is the one that sticks with you as you figure out your life, your new normal, and it comes in waves.  The kind that keep you on the couch all day, while your child is at school.  The kind that won’t allow you to answer the phone and forces all your communication to be brief and via email and text.  The kind of depression that keeps you up at night watching re-runs of once popular vampire shows that werent that compelling the first time around. DEPRESSION, check.  Been there, done that.
  5. Acceptance – Learning to live with everything, the new normal.  OK, really?  As I have stated before, I did not like my “new normal,” and refused to accept it.  And do you have any other choice by to accept that your loved one is gone?  So with this one, ACCEPTANCE, I say MEH.

There is no rhyme nor reason to these stages.  There is not defined order that they come in, no length of time to go through them, you can jump around them and move back and forth like a pinpall in a machine.  Like I said, intellectuals trying to make logic where there is none.

I choose to discuss greif, not in stages at all, but as irrational mood swings that take over, not unlike pregnancy hormones, or better yet, drunk cats on an acid trip.  One minute you are trucking along feeling like you have everything in order and you are making progress assembling your daily routines, and then the cell phone company sends you a bill for your husband’s cell phone, for 6 months of charges they say are overdue.  Because even though you sent them the death certificate when you canceled the service, someone didn’t get the memo….and you may or may not be inclined GO OFF in an inappropriate manner on the poor, unassuming customer service rep who is sitting in a call center somewhere terrified you will be waiting for them in the parkin lot after their shift.  Let’s just say, I started to, and still struggle with, operating in the extremes.  Just to ease your mind, there was resolution to the matter with the cell phone bill….I eventually sent a certified letter to the CEO of the cell phone carrier….next thing I knew, the matter was resolved.  Rational, no….effective, yup.

Greif is something that doesn’t go away…it just goes dormant.  You are trapped in the “stages” forever.  THAT, my friends, is all part of the “new normal.”  It can creep up on you at any moment, and always in some irrational and nonsensical way.  And BAM here comes the crazy.  Welcome to my club, one that no one wants to join, and yet once there, they are members for life.

* https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/

Thankfulness, overwhelming

While appreciation and thankfulness should be practiced everyday, the month of November celebrates gratefulness.  I would be remiss if I did not take this week, the week of Thanksgiving, to express the overwhelming and blessed thankfulness to the family and friends who undoubtedly carried me through in trying times.

The outpouring of support and prayers I received after the passing of my husband brought rejuvenation to my spirit.¬† At a time when it could be so easy to turn my back on or get angry with God, instead I felt uplifted by those in my life.¬† It is hard to describe, but I could actually feel the support.¬† Instead of crying tears of pain, there were many times I cried tears of appreciation and love.¬† I felt supported by those who were close to me, those I hadn’t seen in many years, and even those whom I had never even met in person.

I have been overcome with the gentle and positive nature that can be shared by humankind.¬† I wish it didn’t take a designated day, week, or month to be reminded of the kindness and compassion we are capable of.

The New Normal

Once the chaos dies down, the family and friends return to their own lives, you start to settle in to a “new normal.”¬† A normal that includes all the obligations of your pre-death-of-a-spouse life, but without the support and companionship.

This was a very strange phase because I continued to move throughout each day in a virtual haze.¬† I was being held up by the strength I found in obligation.¬† School for A, work for me, and then there were the activities…

My daughter, A, was a very active 8-year old.¬† She had 2-days a week of competitive gymnastics, plus 3-days a week of competitive tae-kwon-do (she was a black belt at this point, only a few months away from 2nd degree).¬† She was in the “gifted” program at school, and an Improv drama program once a week after school.¬† Let’s just say we were VERY busy.¬† There wasn’t a whole lot of time to grieve or even breathe for that matter.¬† Too much to do, and too little time to do it.

I would catch a break once A went to bed….mainly because I didn’t sleep much…at least not with out the help of medication.¬† And there were rules I had put in place about medication (rules that I still adhere to today)….

  1. Only take medication if you had not slept the night before
  2. Medication can only be taken prior to 10pm
  3. Never take medication 2 days in a row.

The sleepless nights helped me to the realization…..What if I HATE the new normal?¬† And I did…..I HATED IT!

Things were going to have to change…life was not going to be this way.¬† And with that, changes came!¬† The new journey began!

 

The day the whole world changed

February 14th, 2012.¬† Valentine’s Day.¬† Or in my case, the day that changed the direction of my life forever.

Let’s set the scene.¬† My daughter, A, had just turned 8 years old two weeks prior.¬† My husband, B, was in the hospital, unconscious, on a ventilator and heart pump.¬† I was faced with an impossible decision as his heart was at 10% function and the doctors could not regulate his breathing and heart, they were not working together.¬† His body was failing.¬† The priest had visited, my parents were there, his father was there, and my daughter was as school.¬† I chose to sign the papers.¬† The ones you hoped you would only see on TV medical dramas.¬† I whispered in B’s ear, “I’ve got this.”¬† And it wasn’t long after that, he passed away.

There is a whole lot more detail I am leaving out, and maybe some day I will explain all the events…the good, the bad, and the ugly, but today is not that day.¬† This is about the day that change my life, and unfortunately my daughter’s life, forever.

Worst day ever….sitting at home, waiting for A to get off the bus.¬† She is excited, she comes running in after her Valentine’s Day celebration at school, she is happily jabbering about how she got a special reward from her teacher (who knew in advance what I was facing) and what a great day she had.¬† She thought we were going to visit Daddy at the hospital…but that was not the case.¬† I had to sit her down, with tears in my eyes, and explain that we could not visit Daddy and that he would not be coming home.

I don’t remember the rest of that day…If I am being honest, and my intent is to do just that, the next few days were a blur….I sometimes describe them like this:¬† Bourbon, Lunesta, tears, and cigarettes.

Hanging on by a thread

I am the mother of a teenage girl (we will call her A), and that alone could be a “bloggable” challenge.¬† I work a full-time career, 20 years with the staffing industry (also could fill up a blog with stories that would make your head spin).¬† I am a remarried widow, my new husband is 10 years my junior, has a daughter that lives with her mother, making me the stepmother of an tween.¬† So in short…..mother, widow, career-woman, wife, step-mother, and dis-placed Yankee living in the South.¬† Hold tight, I have a feeling this is going to be one crazy read.

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