Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace and Joy

This second Christmas without T, I made it through in one piece. With some measure of peace and joy, in fact. We spent the day at my stepson's mother's house, opening presents (didn't get through them all), eating, playing. My stepson's mother is a great gift-buyer, stuffing B's stocking and mine as well as her son's. It's so nice to have some surprises to look forward to on Christmas! A couple new books, a pretty Christmas brooch, a calendar of family photos -- thank you J!

B and I made it home just in time to get ready for my Dad and his wife to arrive for Christmas dinner, a simple seafood stew I put together quickly. B had no nap, but in her good-natured way, she did just fine. Christmas music, a good Chardonnay, cookies and apple crumb pie (yum!). And a quiet weekend ahead, for lounging and reading and taking it easy.

Merry Christmas, everyone. May the peace and joy of the season find its way to your heart, wherever you may be.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Losing Patience

I came home today and somehow lost my patience. Everything grated on me; everything was too hard to navigate and took too much effort to manage. I felt overwhelmed by serving dinner, I read the paper instead of playing with B and then was short with her during bedtime because I had gotten the routine started late. My stepson is with us tonight, and I let him play on the computer all evening instead of suggesting a game with me, or that we read together. I just want to have no obligations, no commitments, and be able to do whatever I want.
What's wrong with me? What triggered it? I don't know, but I did notice that I resisted letting go of the bad feeling. Something in me wanted to feel overwhelmed, and wasn't ready to take a deep breath and let it go. There's energy in bad feelings, isn't there? Energy in anger, in frustration, in resisting the way things are.
So I let myself off the hook, let myself be angry and frustrated and pissy. It's mostly faded, but now I'm sad and tired. Ah well, tomorrow is another day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Gift of Triggering Tears

My daughter goes to preschool three mornings a week, to a class of about 16 kids and three teachers. The head teacher is a tiny blond woman named Teacher Laura, who had my step-son in her class 6 years ago. She is a warm, friendly woman, down-to-earth and kind, and I often find myself in tears when I talk with her. I don't know what it is -- her empathy, the fact that she knew and remembers my husband, some unconscious vibe of loving care she exudes -- whatever it is, she triggers my emotions like no one I've ever encountered. I cried three times today, once talking with her about how B has inherited T's introverted nature, again when telling a close friend about the encounter, and just now as I describe it on paper. When I cry in her presence, she doesn't pay any special attention to my tears, neither expressing concern that I'm crying nor trying to change the subject or excuse herself. She's just there; present, open and warm. What a gift she has! She is effortlessly helping me get in touch with my feelings, and I so appreciate her.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Am Full of Instructions

I have recently become aware of how many instructions I issue to my daughter. "Don't forget to use soap", I say. "Can you pick up your socks, please?" "Let's brush teeth now". I had an a-ha moment the other day listening to our wonderful nanny. "Look, your clothes are on the floor", she said. Just a statement of fact, said with a tone of mild interest. What's going to happen next? the tone implied. And darned if B didn't pick up her discarded shirt, pants and underwear and put them in the laundry basket. I LOVE our nanny. She is fantastic with kids, loves to be with them, and has a way of interacting that gets results without heartache.

Clearly, at nearly three and a half, my daughter knows what tasks need doing. Clothes go in the laundry, teeth get brushed, hands are washed after potty. If I let her take the lead, the right stuff will get done. But oh, it can take forEVER. "Must ... sit ... on ... hands", I tell myself as I watch the painfully slow progress of any routine task. The nanny always seems to have forefront in her mind that she is helping B to become an independent, self-sufficient individual. Time spent now encouraging capability and responsibility is worth it; instructing her each step of the way to pee, pull up her pants, flush, turn on the water, unstick the soap from its holder, lather, etc. etc. etc. when she knows full well what comes next might result in a few minutes saved today, but much longer battles at age 9 when she needs micromanaging to get her homework done.

So, as an early New Year's resolution, I'm starting to bite my tongue when I can, and when I can't, attempting to simply state facts, not instructions. Oh, and breathing, relaxing, and letting go of the desire to always move things along at my pace. What techniques do you favor (whether you actually use them or not!) in encouraging independence?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Complicated Family

I don't have a "normal" family. Even before T died, it was complicated by the fact of D, his son from a previous relationship. Now it's so unsymmetrical it's crazy -- my family is B, but B's family is me and D, her half-brother. I was/am D's stepmother, but D's mother has no formal relationship with B. What do I call my late husband's father? And his father's wife? In-laws, I guess, though with the marriage having been dissolved by death, that law is no longer in effect.

This complexity has practical implications. Ever since T and I were married, we sent a family picture in our Christmas cards. First it was the three of us (me, T and D), then we became four. Last year, the first Christmas since T died, it was back to three. Taking and sending that photo was so hard, but it felt so important. Like the picture I had taken at my company holiday party, it was necessary to capture and reflect the new me, the new family.

This year, I happened to show a friend a JC Penney portrait of B and me taken a few months ago. "Oh!" she said. "You should use this for your Christmas card!" That got me thinking -- do I want to use a beautiful, good-quality photo that I think I look OK in, but without D, or a hit-or-miss snapshot taken with a camera whose flash seems to be having problems, so D can be included? After all, what is my role in D's life? What is our relationship, really? Is this Christmas photo my family, or B's family? Digging into my hesitation, I recognized some residual resentment toward D, toward T's need to divide his attention between me and D, and then also between D and our daughter B. And resentment at the complexity of my situation, my non-normal family.

Then I read an Ann Landers column (yes, I read her daily!) about grandparents who were wondering what their relationship should be to the new half-sibling of their grandchild. Paraphrasing, she said something like "see if you can find it in your heart to be generous and inclusive." Suddenly, the answer was crystal clear. D will always be invited to participate in this little family. Even if I remarry and form yet more complex family relationships, I want to him to know that he has a place with me and B if he wants it. At some point he may choose not to participate, temporarily or permanently, but I can not and must not add to his loss. His father is gone. If it is in my power, I must make sure the rest of his family relationships, however complicated and unconventional, remain loving and strong.

And incidentally, I found a great holiday card template that includes 6 small photos on the front, and one large one inside. I put the Christmas snapshot of the three of us on the inside, and my favorite pictures of both kids, plus the one of me with B, on the front. Problem solved!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On My Way

On Saturday night I went to a singles party, a "social networking club" event put on by my college alumni association. It's nice to live so close to where I went to college, because there is a large contingent of alums, and among that group, there are plenty of single people to mix and mingle with. This is the third or fourth social networking event I've attended, and up until now I always had a nice time, but didn't proceed to the next step, as it were -- didn't exchange contact information with anyone.

Saturday's event was in a very nice wine bar, with beautiful stucco walls and beamed ceilings, a cozy fire, and two glasses of wine included with admission. It was pretty crowded by the time I had extracted myself from the home fires, found parking, and made my way in. A pleasant-looking, slightly older gentleman stood alone at the corner of the bar, facing the room. Now, this party was a mixed age event, so there were plenty of twenty-somethings along with us more mature singles. I feel uncomfortable around the young set, being nearly old enough to be their mother and afraid of unfavorable comparisons with the young woman. So when I have the opportunity to chat with people more in my demographic, I take it.

Mr. Older Gentleman (I'll call him OG) turned out to be a nice man, but definitely more mature -- perhaps 15 years older than me. Divorced three years from a much younger woman (her parents were only 8 years his senior), childless, he has his own management consulting firm and a second home in the wine country. A Man Of Substance, I would say. But I liked him, in a comfortable, no-fireworks way, and we chatted pretty much the whole time I was there.

Several other people joined us at different points in the conversation, including an acquaintance I hadn't seen for a number of years. "What have you been up to lately?" she asked me, and I took the bait and said I was a widow with a three-year-old daughter. OG didn't blink, and even shared an interesting personal observation that grieving can be viewed as having a half-life: you feel half as bad after a certain period of time, then half as bad as that after the same amount of time passes again, etc. (He did a better job of explaining.)

When it came time for me to head home, he asked if he might give me his card. Sure, I said, and I gave him one of mine, too. I'm not sure of the current dating protocols, but I understand there's a "three-day rule", a waiting period after meeting someone new before making contact. If I didn't hear from him by today, I was going to shoot him a friendly email suggesting a wine or coffee date.

And darned if I didn't get an email this afternoon from him, suggesting we meet for a glass of wine next Wednesday. !!!

It's been fun thinking about him, and thinking what he might think of me. Why didn't he have children, what are his political and social views, does he enjoy travel, is he a good communicator? Would he appreciate my goofy side, does he find independent and capable women attractive, would he love my daughter? I would have said his age is a show-stopper, except it's not like I'm contemplating marrying him. It's a practice run, and I'm just looking for someone nice, someone I can trust and feel comfortable with, to dip my toe into the dating pool with. Apparently, I'm on my way!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Company Holiday Party

Last night was my company holiday party. They always do a very nice job at a lovely venue, so though I skipped it last year (too soon!) I decided to attend this time. I've been with the same company since before T and I were together, and he and I went to the event every year. So many memories of T and me dressing up, chatting with co-workers, eating and drinking, dancing at our one annual opportunity ... roundabout mid-day yesterday, I was beginning to doubt my resolve.

But sometimes the outfit makes all the difference. I was thinking I would wear the same skirt and festive taffeta blouse I've worn several times before. The blouse was a favorite of T's, and I was having trouble facing the thought of wearing the same thing, just without the chic accessory of a husband. Luckily as I was trolling my closet, I came across a shimmery gold cowl neck sweater set. It wasn't something I associated with T, and it was seasonal and not too out of date. It immediately turned my mood around.

Riding on the company-provided bus up to the party, almost everyone was part of a couple. I felt conspicuously alone. But then I realized everyone had a different story, was in a different place in relationship with their partner. There were a few other single people, and the pair in front of me seemed to be just friends attending the party together. Not everyone was a happily married couple attending the way T and I had so many times.

I am very glad I went. And in some ways, it's easier alone: no one to negotiate with about where to go, when and with whom to engage in conversation, and for how long. I decided I was expressing my courage -- acknowledging it was hard, there were demons to face, but as a friend at the event said, "Avoid avoiding". Talking to good friends, the tears came easily. But they dried easily, too. At times during the night, I felt out of place, an impostor. But at other times, I was genuinely enjoying myself. And I had my picture taken, alone but with my chin up and a smile on my face.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lighting a Candle in Remembrance

Tonight was a candlelight remembrance service led by Kara, the grief support organization I am a client of. It was a lovely event, and the sight of several hundred people holding lit candles high in remembrance was beautiful and moving. Not unexpectedly, B had some trouble sitting still, so we spent some time running around outside. (Eventually I got smart and sent her out into the courtyard, watching her dance with her shadow from just inside the glass doors.)

At last year's event, I invited a number of friends to join me. I felt in need of as much support as I could garner to remember and honor T's life and impact. I recall being very anxious that my stepson D attend, as it seemed like a big and important event. And he did attend, though not without some resistance. Lots of friends came, and even my brother (one of two, the one lives close to me) was there.

This year, I didn't even mention it to anyone else, including D or his mother. I somehow wanted it to be private and personal. My Kara grief counselor sat with us, and that was all the support I needed. It felt intimate and meaningful, and it was also much easier emotionally. Another welcome sign that the healing process is at work, that time and active grieving does heal all.

T, we love you and we miss you, and you are always in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Today was definitely a better day. By mid-day yesterday, I was coming out of the fog, and I feel almost back to "normal" (whatever that is!) tonight. It's so hard to remember in the moment, but emotions are fleeting. They come and go, ebb and flow, rise up and then pass away. Though it feels like I'll be stuck in the fog forever, it hasn't happened yet! And conversely, I know I can't count on always feeling positive and upbeat. Breathe, be in the moment, acknowledge and let go... they're all cliches that have become lifelines for me. They work!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Holiday Letdown

My in-laws left this morning, after a ten-day visit. They are wonderful people, and I really enjoyed hosting them. Besides, my mother-in-law empties the dishwasher every morning, cleans up the kitchen every evening while I'm putting B to bed, and generally makes my life easier while they're here. They drove out from Phoenix, and she brought a rice dish for Thanksgiving. What could be better?

My father and his wife, along with one of her sons and his family, joined us for the Big Day. We had a Sunset Magazine Thanksgiving -- all but two items (including my mother-in-law's rice dish) came from this year's November issue. Brined turkey with sage butter, sweet potatoes and apples, green beans, cranberry sauce with pomegranate seeds -- all was delicious! And I followed the suggestion of a friend and hired a party helper, someone to come in and clean up the kitchen while we were dining and desserting. Oh, what a great thing that was!

Really, everything went very smoothly, and I have nothing significant to complain about. Except I am exhausted. I was a basket case at work today, barely able to function at the lowest level of capability. It was a long ten days of having other adults in my house, morning, noon and night. I realize how much I've come to appreciate the quiet of the evening, after B (and D when he's staying with me) is in bed, to relax and decompress. To be myself, not having to entertain or put on a happy face. Even with family, I appear to believe that being a good host requires being "on", regardless of whether I felt like crying because T wasn't here to enjoy the day, or escaping into a book to avoid the pain, or reading the paper with breakfast because that what I do every morning.

There is much to be thankful for in my life. Even in the terrible early days and weeks after losing T, I recognized that things could be much worse. T didn't suffer; his son wasn't staying with us the night T died; T wasn't driving a car when it happened; we were at a good place in our relationship with no real unfinished business. But on this Thanksgiving, like all major holidays so far, T's absence is just still to big and raw. There is no room on this day for heartfelt thanks, for counting my blessings and feeling grateful. There is only deep, deep sadness and loss. On other, less emotionally-loaded days, I can and do genuinely give thanks. I feel hope for the future, and even look forward with interest and excitement. Just not right now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Communing with the spirit(s) of T

My husband T was not a conspicuous consumer. While we did both have well-paying jobs in the Silicon Valley, neither of us were big shoppers. He drove a practical, inexpensive car, he wasn't into video games, DVDs or electronics, and he wore khakis and polo shirts exclusively. I once bought him a beautiful cashmere sport jacket that never even left the closet. (I took it back to Nordstrom after he died, five years after I bought it, and they accepted it as a return. I heart Nordstrom.)

But T was a wine collector. And wow, you can sink a lot of money into wine if you even halfway try. We have a very large wine refrigerator in the garage, and off-site storage for many more cases as well. Some of the wine he bought is quite expensive, and none of it will last forever. Whatever am I going to do with somewhere around 500 bottles?

Last weekend I spent time at the off-site wine locker, sorting cases, handling bottles T was the last one to touch, deciphering his almost illegible handwriting, and communing with his spirit (pun intended). I was able to bring home many cases and move the rest into a much smaller locker, saving me a tidy sum in storage fees. My in-laws helped me load 19 cases into the refrigerator in the garage. I thought of T with every bottle I handled, every label I read, every winery visit I recalled. Oh, I have some wonderful memories of tasting trips we took to Napa and Sonoma. I was pleased to realize that the recollections brought smiles more than tears -- another sign of having moved forward with my grieving.

So what will I do with all these cases? I will continue to give wine to my in-laws, as they appreciate it as much as T and I did. I will continue to donate wine to fund-raising auctions for causes I support. I'll sell what I can via consignment. I'll drink a little, though not nearly at the pace that T and I were on while he was here to help with the mood and the consumption. And I'll toast to his memory with every glass.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Loneliness Continued

I've been thinking more about loneliness, and realizing that sometimes I miss T specifically, like when watching beautiful sunset or contemplating entertaining our friends. Our nanny has a clip from a Darius Rucker song as her cell phone ring tone, and I acutely miss T when I hear "It won't be like this for long / One day soon we'll look back laughing at the week we brought her home / This phase is gonna fly by, so baby just hold on / Cause it won't be like this for long." No one but me remembers the wonderful and terrible days after we brought B home. I might be able to provide a father figure for B in the future, and a life partner for myself, but I can't replace the loss of the other person in that most life-altering shared experience.

At other times I just miss having someone belong to me; someone to drop me off when my car is in the shop, or be a listening ear when I want to talk about work, or try out a new restaurant with. This kind of loneliness is the generic "I wish I had a mate" brand, presumably resolved when in the fullness of time I find myself in a new relationship. Will the specific loneliness fade over time, and the generic loneliness remain or even increase? I strive to be peaceful, whole and content by myself as well as in a relationship. Goodness knows it's often hard to be peaceful when in a relationship with another person as imperfect in his own way as I. And it sure is easier to get things done when I'm the only one making in the decisions. But right now, I feel that I want to give and receive love, to face the future with a partner to share life with. I strive to stay hopeful that when the time is right, there will be the right relationship too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Accepting Happiness

On Friday I had lunch with a close friend. I drove to meet her with a very light heart and an almost unreasonable feeling of joy. "It's almost Thanksgiving! My lovely in-laws are arriving tonight! It's my day off, and I have the whole weekend ahead of me!" Whatever crossed my mind, I effortlessly turned into something positive. Oh, if I could hold on to that ability and use it consistently! But at least I have episodes of joy. I am healing.

Tonight's fortune cookie: "Soon someone new coming into your life will become a very good friend."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taking Care of Myself

I flew to San Diego for work yesterday, leaving in the morning and returning in the late afternoon. It's only a little over an hour's flight, and it was a smooth trip and a productive day, but I was still pretty tired at the end of it. My pattern has always been to pack as much into a day as possible; when I was young and single I often had
something every night, and occasionally two things in the same night (volleyball
practice followed by a movie, for example). After T died, I dramatically cut back on my commitments first by necessity, and then to consciously allow myself plenty of unstructured downtime. As I have come out of active grieving, I've slipped back into the always-busy mode, trying to squeeze the most out of every day. Yesterday was no exception, as I planned to go to a yoga and meditation class directly from the airport. If my flight was on time, I could just make it, and I packed my yoga clothes and mat in the car the night before.

But watching the incredibly beautiful sunset and sliver of a moon from the airplane window as we descended, I realized I was having trouble mustering the energy to go to a yoga class where mental and physical discipline were required. Was I being lazy, or avoiding my grief? Yeah, maybe, but I am learning to tune into my gut reactions and take them seriously. Maybe I would miss an opportunity, but there is always another chance, and taking it at my own pace is really important. And I hadn't seen B much in the last few days, being out late the night before and up and gone early that day. I missed her, and thought she might be missing me.

But it was uncomfortable making the decision to change my plans and go home. I took some time to think about what was at the root of the discomfort, and I realized I was afraid to disappoint the yoga teacher, and disappoint the babysitter who was expecting 3 hours of work. I had made a commitment, and I always feel the need to follow through on my commitments. I had to pause and let go of that need this time. They probably don't care, and if they do, it's their thing, not mine. I had warned the yoga teacher I might miss class, given my travel plans, so she was prepared, and I paid the sitter for an hour of her time, even though she was only there for half an hour. (Was that enough?) It was uncomfortable to change plans like that, but it felt good to listen and respond to my own internal needs. To take care of myself. And B and I were happy to see each other!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My dad and step-mom took me and B out for dinner on Sunday night, and we had a very nice time. As some point during dinner, my step-mom asked me if I was lonesome in the evenings. It's a question I've considered before, and the answer is surprisingly, no. I actually enjoy my quiet, unstructured evenings. I often read or work on the computer, sometimes write in my journal, and start getting ready for bed around 9:30. And T and I didn't have much of a togetherness routine in the evenings, either. He would watch TV or read his Economist, and because I hated his channel surfing style, I would often disappear in the office or ignore the TV and read on the couch. So I don't find I miss him especially acutely in the evenings.

When I do really long for his presence is during meals, when we always ate together as a family and he always did the clean-up, and when in family-focused crowds. Yesterday was B's preschool Thanksgiving celebration, and like the Bar Mitzvah we attended in October, I felt like I was in my own private bubble. I don't know many of the families at preschool, because I'm a working mom and not very good at mingling, I guess. B isn't quite at the point of having close preschool friends, and the crowd was a little disconcerting to her, so she clung to me and limited the amount of grown-up socializing I could do. And I just didn't feel the spirit; I was envious of the happy families of mom, dad, a kid or two, making T's absence so big. There is no guarantee that T would have attended with me, though he would certainly have tried. I might have been annoyed if he didn't attend, as I sometimes felt that B got the short straw compared to her half-brother when T prioritized his time. But I would have been more relaxed, more comfortable in the environment, feeling like I was just another mom with preschooler, rather than the wounded freak of nature I realize I sometimes feel like. The invisible "W" emblazoned on my forehead is both something I feel compelled to talk about, and also wish with all my heart were not there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings After Yoga

What is life, living? How can I be alive, and you be dead? How can my heart beat and my breath fill my body, and your heart and body be ashes? One moment you were alive, the next you were gone. Dead, elsewhere, not here with us. Where are you? Do you see me, watch B as she grows? I don't very often feel you directly, but every once in a while your memory is so strong. Your big laugh, your big hands, your energy and warmth and heartbeat.

I remember how upset I was with the idea of your open heart surgery, how your beautiful chest would be forever marred by a big scar. But it healed so well, and became a part of you, neither good nor bad. Perhaps that is what your death is becoming in me. At first it was a huge, raging, gaping wound, my lifeblood pouring out as I grasped the truth and reality of you being gone forever. As time has passed and I have walked with the truth, the wound has begun to heal. There is a big, tender, red scar that mars my existence, but I can now see that with time and gentle acceptance, it will fade to become a part of me, neither good nor bad, just there.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turning a Corner

Every few months I try to get away for a night or two, completely on my own, for some solitude and grief processing time. The first time I went to a resort in the southwest near my in-laws, and it was just what I wanted except for the wedding reception occurring in the restaurant as I went to have dinner. (Being a lone observer at someone else's wedding when you're grieving the loss of your spouse was not my idea of a good time.) But I sat at the bar and had a nice meal, as I recall, and the view from the room was almost worth the emotional pain. (T was a connoisseur of views, and would have very much appreciated that spot.)

The second time, I tried a bed and breakfast near home owned by a friend. That was a good experience also, though having a relationship with the host did perhaps constrain me a little in feeling like I could completely let go.

This time, my grief counselor recommended a guest house at a Zen Buddhist farm and conference center about 50 miles away. I went up on Wednesday afternoon, and stayed two nights. With meals included, it was a mere $90 a night. And more than that, the atmosphere was much more conducive to introspection and spiritual reflection. I had several good conversations with fellow guest house visitors, went on a long walk to the beach, cried a lot, read and wrote a lot, and felt like I perhaps turned a bit of a corner in my grieving.

Reading one of the workbooks my grief counselor loaned me from a grief group she attended, I came upon a list of possible accomplishments. "Wow", I thought. "I have accomplished a lot. I've come a long way!"

I have:
  • Acknowledged that I am in pain
  • Faced my loss
  • Understood why the world views me as it does
  • Recognized that grief returns again and again
  • Remembered my past losses
  • Looked forward at the future
  • Decided to let change happen in my life, to embrace it
  • Understood the grieving process

And I am:
  • Beginning to let go of T
  • Saying good-bye in the midst of remembering
  • Discovering new roles
  • Integrating my past with my future
  • Beginning to feel back in balance
  • Beginning to move beyond loss

It feels really good to recognize my progress. Like climbing a long, slow ascent on my bike, I feel as if I've come to a little vista point and can look out and see how far up I'm come from the valley floor. I know that grieving is a spiral staircase (see point 4 on the first list above!), and I may be back in the hard work of the climb again sooner or later, but for now I'm enjoying the view.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Until very recently, I hadn't set an alarm since the morning T died. Those first many months, I wasn't sleeping well enough to need to -- I was always awake long before 6:30. Even when taking sleeping pills the first two weeks or so, I couldn't stay asleep for more than about 4 or 5 hours, and though I would fall back asleep for a while, it wasn't good quality sleep and I had no trouble getting up, showered, and ready for B's morning routine at 7:00 or 7:15.

In the last few months I had better luck occasionally sleeping until 6:30 or so, especially as fall arrived and the sun rose incrementally later each morning. But I still resisted setting an alarm. Somehow it represents losing an important concession I've insisted on as a widow -- I get to sleep as long as I can, putting my own needs for good rest above the commitments of the day. And T died between going to bed at night and when the alarm went off in the morning, so the alarm clock represents something more ominous to me, I guess.

But a few weeks ago I had to be somewhere by 8:00 AM for a class I was taking, and the mornings leading up to the class, after waking at 4:30 and having trouble falling back asleep, I actually slept past 7:00. I didn't want to risk being late, so I bit the bullet and set an alarm. And of course I woke early.

But then I had the thought that not setting the alarm might be making me unconsciously worry about oversleeping, now that I'm back in a normal routine of commitments and schedules. Maybe setting the alarm will enable me to sleep longer, because I will trust that the alarm will get me up in time.

Didn't make a difference. I still wake up at 5:30 or 5:45, whether the alarm is set or not.

I don't quite know why I'm so obsessed with sleep. I don't feel especially tired, most days, and have enough energy to get through a day intact. I've always been this way though, from college days when I would quit studying at midnight so I could get 7 1/2 hours sleep before I had to get up at 8:00 for class. When B was born, I worked very hard to get her on a generous sleep schedule, even putting myself to bed when she went down at 8:00 or 8:30 so that the fractured nights of breastfeeding were survivable.

I guess I equate sleeping 8+ hours a night with mental health, spiritual peace and emotional contentment. Or maybe it represents healing to me; like babies' brains grow while they sleep, my heart will eventually mend overnight.

So on that note, I am tucking in. But I plan to buy the tea that Abigail recommends. I can use all the help I can get.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Good Day

B has a book called "A Good Day" by Kevin Henkes. It was one of a handful of books we took on our trip to Mexico in April 2008, the trip where T died less than a week after our return. It has a great story line, in which four little animals each suffer (suffers?) a disappointment, and each overcomes to turn a bad day into a good day. Even before T died, my favorite was Little Brown Squirrel's experience: she dropped her nut, but then found the biggest nut ever. Sometimes you have to let go of something good to make room for something even better.

I loved T with all my heart, but he wasn't always the easiest to live with. In the words of my grief support group counselor, our marriage was sometimes like a really cute shoe that was about 1/2 size too small. Over time, it's just not completely comfortable. T had a hard time letting go of control of things, and was very skilled at subtle techniques that kept me a little off balance. I would wonder if he really loved me. I would strive to please him so he wouldn't roll his eyes, interrupt me, or give me "the look". I experienced him as not always appreciating the parts of me that felt the most me: singing to the radio, working to understand myself better, trying to be compassionate toward others.

A silver lining in this terrible storm cloud I'm living under is that I am no longer wearing that really cute, slightly too small shoe. I can stretch out, relax, breath, and totally be myself without fear of censure or the pain of feeling diminished. Of course, there were so many good parts to our marriage -- the companionship on all our great adventure traveling, the partnership of loving and caring for children together, the comfort in sharing a home and a future. He was a truly good man, and he truly loved me.

But the nut of our marriage was snatched out of my hands. (Does that analogy work?) Now I have the opportunity to find "the biggest nut ever", a man and a marriage that fits me, especially the me I am becoming, better. It won't necessarily be easy, and it certainly isn't a certainty, but it is a possibility. I hold on to that promise and think of Little Brown Squirrel, and how you have to let go to turn a bad day into a good day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Last weekend was my 25th college reunion. I live right down the street from the school, and find myself on campus often, so it was easy to attend. I signed up for the whole program, from dinner on the quad Thursday night through the football tailgater Saturday evening. My goal in committing so much time was two-fold: I wanted to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, and I thought maybe I would meet someone interesting.

The first goal was easy; all I had to do when asked "What have you been up to all these years?" was to say "Well, I've been going through a tough time lately. I lost my husband last year." That immediately took the conversation to a much more intimate level than might otherwise have resulted: people shared their own losses with me, we talked about the meaning of life and the amazing joys of children, about making a difference in your job and enjoying every moment. I probably said those words "I lost my husband last year" at least 50 times. Depending on the listener's response, I shed a few tears or not, and it didn't matter too much to me either way. I definitely talked with more women, especially those from my freshman dorm, but I also shared my story with some thoughtful and compassionate men (alas, all married).

I confess to a certain sense of pride regarding the tragic nature of my story, and almost a pleasure in shocking and impressing my listener with the magnitude of my loss and my strength, bravery and resilience. I was there, after all, talking about it candidly and insightfully. Or at least that's how I saw myself; there is every likelihood that I was in fact a bit boorish and boring. It is intoxicating, having a story that trumps anything anyone else might tell; intoxicating to imagine myself the subject of discussion later on and back home. I finally achieved popularity!

There was a class panel one afternoon, where the theme was transition and change. I very much enjoyed hearing the stories of the five panelists, describing how close or far they landed from their graduation dreams, and how they approached transition and change. When polled, about half the audience indicated they were in a pretty stable place in their lives currently, and the other half admitted to being in transition. I certainly feel like I'm in transition, or rather in a limbo state that may precede major change. Being comfortable just sitting in that place, and trusting that when the time is right the path will open up, is what I'm working on right now.

Looking back on past reunions, I was in transition, or challenged in some way, at each one, it seems. At the 20th, I was all about infertility. At the time of the 15th, which I didn't attend, I was preparing to break up with my live-in boyfriend. (Receiving the invitation earlier that summer, I wondered if I would have executed my break-up plan by then, so I could go and possibly meet someone new. I dragged my feet too long and didn't actually do the deed until perhaps the weekend of the reunion itself.) Where will I be at the 30th? I hope to have my grief resolved, be at peace with my loss, and be content with my life. Oh, and I hope to be married, too. I keep trying to focus on inner peace and contentment, being happy by myself and not dependent on a relationship for wholeness, but the truth right now is that I really want a life partner to share love, companionship, and parenting.

That brings me to the second goal of the weekend, my desire to meet someone interesting. It was not achieved. I did go to a singles event, but there were not many eligible men, it seemed, though I did enjoy talking with some nice women (as always!). Ah well, I'm not at all certain I'm ready right now to invest emotional energy in a new relationship. And I did put out the idea, to many of the people I talked with, that I would like to be married again. Who knows what will appear when the time is right?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Honey

Today you would have been 50. I miss you so much, and still can't believe that you are not here with me.

I didn't do anything special to celebrate your birthday. I feel guilty about that. I didn't go to the cemetery, or do anything ceremonial with B (or D); I didn't light a candle or make a donation or even say a prayer. Several friends called, and I called Papa. I went to a Young Widow and Widowers Meetup dinner, talked about you and my grieving, wondered when I'll start coming out of this all-consuming haze of loss.

If you were still here, we would have gone to dinner with F and E. We might have taken a weekend trip, probably taking B with us. We would have had a lovely meal, two glasses of champagne and a bottle of wine, delicious dessert, and good togetherness afterwards. I would have bought you some sort of gift -- possibly lame-ass, but maybe inspired.

But you are not here. You are "in nature", "in the little animals that run around". You are in my thoughts and in my heart, and will always stay there, always 48, always safe.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Alone in my sad little bubble

Today I took B to a Bar Mitzvah hosted by an old friend. I have so little exposure to Jewish traditions, but I appreciated the community and spirituality of the event. B wasn't interested in staying with the other kids and babysitters in the play area, so she promised to be quiet and stay with me in the sanctuary. She did very well, throughout the 2 1/2 hour service. And my friend's twin sons did beautifully, too.

But I felt like I was traveling in an isolation chamber. No one spoke to me, and I spoke to no one. A few people smiled at B, and one or two people asked how old she was. My friend stopped briefly at our table as we were eating lunch, and I got to say "Mazel Tov" to the boys when we first arrived. Otherwise, we were observers, looking in on normal family lives from the outside.

The only other Bar Mitzvah I've attended was in the spring, for the oldest son of T's oldest friend. At that service I felt very included and a part of the community, and I cried through the entire event. There was a slide show of photos of the family, and extended family, and T's smiling face appeared several times. The siblings of T's friend were all in attendance, and all made a point to spend some time with me. We even stayed at our friend's mother's house.

But in a fundamental way, the pain I felt today, and the pain of last spring, was the same. Bar Mitzvahs celebrate family, and highlight for me the gaping hole in ours. Whether the people around me knew anything about me and my story or not, I couldn't help but constantly reflect on my loss. Add to that the 2 hour drive each way, alone with a three-year-old who didn't sleep going or coming, and I am exhausted tonight. And stuck in my sadness, feeling very lonely and sorry for myself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feeling My Broken Heart

The other morning, as I was sitting in silence, eyes closed on my bed, practicing meditation, I did a body scan. How did each part of my body feel, and what was it trying to tell me? I didn't get further than my heart. Oh, it
ached. It felt like it was sliced to shreds, pierced with arrows, broken open and bleeding all over. (All those cliches about how a broken heart feels? Tritely, embarrassingly true.) And it was telling me that the pain was necessary, that it was important to feel, to honor what T and I had and what I lost. It was reminding me that the pain and sorrow are there constantly, and I just distract myself to avoid feeling it. "Hello," I said to the pain. "I recognize you. I appreciate that you are telling me how important T was to me." Unfortunately, the pain didn't magically melt away. Maybe I felt more comfortable with it, more accepting of it. But I still wished it were gone, dammit. I'm tired of this phase of active grieving.

One thing that may help me move through this phase is to complete the "Mourning and Mitzvah" journaling exercises. I've been taking a break from them, as various daytime and evening events have engaged my energies and/or time. Perhaps because in the chronology of the journal exercises, I'm still early in processing the loss, my emotional state is stuck there too. This weekend I'll get back to it, and see how that feels.

I have been thinking about taking the last batch of T's ashes with me to my next solitude retreat, scheduled for early November. I'll be gone for two nights, mid-week, staying at a Zen Buddhist center near the ocean. My plan was to scatter T's ashes on the east coast (done), western mountains (done), and west coast (pending). The center is about 20 minutes walk from the beach, and I'd like to have a more spiritual experience scattering that the first two were. Scattering on public land is of course illegal, so I feel uncomfortable about being seen or caught doing it, but not in having done it. T belongs in nature, and it feels so right to return his essence there. So I guess I will take him with me, and look for an opportunity to cast him upon the waters, or spread him among the redwoods, or scatter him along the bluffs. He would like that. And maybe the experience of completing laying him to rest will help me move forward, too, and ease the pain of my broken heart.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Daddy In Real Life

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
- Robert Hepburn

B occasionally asks "Is Daddy in real life?" "No," I say. "When someone dies, they aren't in real life anymore. Daddy is in pictures, in our memories, and in our hearts." One day recently she asked for a little more information, and I waxed poetic, remembering the Robert Hepburn poem above, and the great comfort I feel knowing T's scattered ashes are nourishing plants and animals in his favorite beautiful places. "When someone dies, they go back to nature. Daddy is in the breezes that blow, the sun that shines, the rain that falls, the plants that grow, the little animals that run around." Today after nap, she said "Daddy isn't here in real life. But he's in the animals that run around." "Yes," I said. "And he is always in our hearts."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Living As If No One Were Missing

I have a new friend, a single mom by choice, whose daughter is the same age as B. My friend has certainly suffered and had difficulties in her life -- giving up on finding a parenting partner before her biological clock ran out and working for 3 years to conceive both come to mind. But I was impressed when I visited her home. If the blending of toys and decor is any gauge, she has integrated her daughter's life and hers seamlessly and beautifully. She is Jewish, and she invited B and me over for Friday night (shabbat) dinner. I got to thinking about how she and her daughter have challah and light candles for the sabbath, just the two of them. As if no one were missing. When that realization struck me, I burst into tears. Because of course, I live every day as if someone where missing. T is missing, and will be missing forever.

No one is missing in their lives. She chose the path of single parenthood, and though it is unquestionably a very difficult path to walk, and she could very well acutely miss the company of a partner in the experience, she also went into it with the expectation of being on her own. I, on the other hand, was never really sure I wanted to have children, and only decided to try after it was abundantly clear that T really wanted another, and would be an equal partner in the endeavor. Once I started down the path to parenthood, though, I because passionately committed to the idea, and had to go, it turned out, to extraordinary measures. (That's a story for another post.)

So having the relationship disappear that was the basis and foundation for having the child makes the parenting part just that much more overwhelming. Being on my own with B is just wrong, and I can't and don't want to get my head around it. But fighting against the reality of things never seems to lead to much success or happiness, does it. I feel I could learn a lot from my new friend about how to set things up and live a life as a whole, complete person and parent, living as if no one were missing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Long Way to Go

At almost eighteen months out, I feel like I've only just begun the hard work of grieving. The first nine months were shock, numbness, putting one foot in front of the other. After the new year I felt good for quite a while -- six months of the calm before the storm. I stretched out my grief peer counselor visits to every two weeks; I stopped seeing my therapist. Then coming back from a trip to visit T's extended family in July, I hit a wall and felt pretty crummy for much of the summer. The reality was sinking in, and I was trying to figure out what it really meant.

I went back to weekly visits with my grief counselor, and I spent a weekend in September at "Grief and Growing", a wonderful program for people dealing with loss. I've been working my way through the exercises in "Mourning and Mitzvah", a guided journal for walking the mourner's path. I am actively searching for ways to process my grief, to let the pain and sadness, loneliness and longing, surface and be recognized. I believe in the idea that by feeling your feelings, you release them and they evolve into something else. I fear that I have a lot of feelings to feel, and it's going to be a while before I've got the emotional energy or heart space to focus on anything else. But it is what it is. Time spent now is necessary, important, and well-invested.


I am starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings, and as a record for my daughter, as I continue down the road of surviving the loss of a spouse. My husband T died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep at 48. Our daughter B was 21 months at the time, and T's son D from a previous relationship was eight. It has been nearly eighteen months, and I am ... what am I? Not destroyed -- I can function normally most of the time. But most definitely not whole either. My loss is a lens that colors everything I see, feel, do. My life partner is gone, and I am only half of what I was and expected to be. I know that wholeness is possible, that integrating a profound loss is achievable, even if "healing" or "recovery" is not.

And so this blog will be a record of my work to return to wholeness.