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!