Full Circle

It appears that I am remarkably consistent in my thinking.  All through this journey I am on I have written, sporadically, but still capturing my thoughts on paper.  When I feel melancholy I seem to have a nasty habit of trying to make myself feel worse by revisiting some of my previous writing.  Not all of it was angst believe it or not.  I used these little recipe cards that I kept by my bed, in my purse, everywhere.  When the mood hit me, I captured my thoughts.

Some of my writings contained ideas about how to make life better for people who end up in the same circumstances as me – facing the death of their partner and not knowing what’s expected of one, what it means and what to do – financially, emotionally, and so on.  Kevin died and in that first year I literally had so many stupid problems to deal with – bees in the walls, broken appliances, a flood in the basement, stupidity with the banks, it just kept coming.  And I wrote and I wrote.

But I also wrote, and I found this card last week, about loneliness and what to do about it.  My loneliness is and was pretty much self inflicted and I recognize that.  It takes effort to reconnect with people, physical and emotional effort, and, so far, I haven’t put much into it.  But people, friends and family, are hugely important.  We can be surrounded by people and yet somehow manage to be completely alone.  So on this card I found, I had written about setting up a club for people like me – alone, partnerless, widowed, divorced, unattached, didn’t matter how you got there, just that you were. I had mulled over the name – either the Solitaire Club (Shine on you crazy diamond), or One (one is the loneliest number). I had wanted my club to meet once a month, for drinks and conversation.  I’d written this card just about two years ago.

For the last month I’ve been saying to my daughter I need to do something, to get involved again, find some interests.  And then I find the card.  Go figure.  I guess it is something that I need to do. Put a little effort into life , and pick up the pieces and make a new puzzle.

Death or Divorce

I met an acquaintance the other day.  I was  out shopping and met up with a woman I hadn’t seen in about two years.  The last time I had seen her she was going through a very public divorce. Married about 25 years, her husband had strayed and the rift was irreparable.  She was shell-shocked when it happened and closeted herself away.  I remember the whole ugly beginning well.  Then I descended into my own world of hurt and pain where there was no room to think about other people’s problems.

I saw her at the store I was in and stopped her to say hi.  I don’t think she wanted to, something I could sympathise with, but I stopped her anyway.  She had no idea that my husband had died; I had no idea that she was still in her own personal hell.  When we started to talk it was crazy, the words wouldn’t come out fast enough.  She was sorry, I was sorry, we were both sad.

I think though that I may have been in a better place than her.  The man I loved had died, an awful tragic thing, but he died surrounded by love and still giving love.  For her, she loved a man who had rejected her, who had pushed her away and out of his life, and her hurt went so deep.  She’d sustained emotional damage and it had undermined her sense of self-worth and self-value.  She is still at a very low point, feeling inadequate – about what, she has no clue.  She’s been replaced in his life, completely, and the hurt from the realization that all their time together ended up meaning nothing to him has left her devastated.

In my own twisted mind this supports the notion that for my future it’s better to be alone.  The sorrow and grief I felt after Kevin’s death is indescribable.  I have no desire to ever go through it again.  I mentioned this to my friend and she immediately responded to the contrary.  “More than anything,” she said, “more than anything I want to find someone to love me, really care about me, and share my life.”  I must have looked astonished, after all her divorce had been epic, because she carried on, stating that, really, all she wanted to do was just get it right.

Maybe, in my case, I got it right the first time and that’s the difference.  Maybe I will feel differently as time goes on.  Or maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’m crazy or maybe she is.  Who knows?  You make the decisions that are right for you.  At the end of the day, you just have to do what’s right for you.





It’s Comfortable and Comforting

This weekend was probably the first one that I’ve had, since sometime last year, where I have set my own course.  The first weekend since Kevin died where I have decided what to do and who to see.  I’ve found through the months since my husband’s death that there was always something to do or someone to see on each and every weekend.  It culminated in Christmas and New Year’s Day, where there was a steady flow of family and friends. My sons were here for a visit, and now, this second weekend in January, everyone is gone and things have settled down.

It was okay, having a weekend to self-direct, to plan what I wanted to do. I didn’t find it lonely; I wasn’t consumed by grief or sorrow.  Invariably, each and every day, I think about Kevin at some point.  I would.  I live in the same house we shared for over 20 years – it is full of him, his artwork covers my walls, his books are on the bookshelves.  It’s comfortable and comforting to me.  I don’t feel any emotional pain from choosing to live here. Sometimes the sheer familiarity of my home can be accompanied by a sense of loss, but it is what it is.  I don’t know from one day to the next if I will react to something that exists in my surroundings.  Life just continues to unfold in its own crazy, unpredictable way.

After Kevin’s death, as part of a courtesy offered by the funeral home, they gifted me with a six month subscription to a leaflet/help letter on the Grief Counselling  I got my last issue this past week.  It was written on the recovery phase.  With respect to grievers, it states, “One of the greatest mistakes we make during bereavement is to compare our progress with others.  There are too many variables in each person’s experiences, personality, and coping mechanisms.  No two people will grieve in the same way – or even within the same time frame.”  (The AfterLoss Grief Recovery Program, Issue Six, AfterLoss Inc.)  My intent is to stop self-analyzing as to whether I am progressing or not.  I should not measure where I am at in my sorrow and grieving compared to someone else. There was only one Kevin and only those who knew him can feel his loss – each in their own way; me – in my own way.  I miss him, and I finally had a weekend to discover how that would manifest.

So, what did I end up doing this weekend?  I went to an afternoon matinee with a friend from work, I went out shopping at a ridiculous time of night (because I could), I cleaned my house, and, finally, I invited family over for Sunday dinner.  It all felt quite right.

Christmas Past

So I plod on through the days leading to Christmas.  The funny thing is that I don’t think I’m the only one, plodding along, wishing the season away.  I never really realized how many people find this a stressful time of the year.  I don’t think the only reason is loneliness either, for some I think it is financial hardship – there is significant pressure to buy, buy, buy – and when you don’t have the money it can make you feel like a real loser.  Sad that Christmas is so commercial.  Then there are those of other faiths that have to put up with all the hype and silliness.

Christmas was always a huge event at our house.  On Christmas morning, Kevin, my husband, was probably equally as excited as our children.  He wasn’t a big shopper, I did most of it, but he loved pulling off the odd surprise here and there.  Our kids, right from the time they were little, couldn’t wait for Christmas to arrive.  They’d all sleep in the same room and wake up at some ungodly hour, wanting Christmas to start right then and there.  We, Kevin and I, had to develop some strategies to delay the start of the day from 6 o’clock in the morning to a much more reasonable 8 or 9 o’clock.

We came up with a few good ideas.  First, we told the kids that when they first woke up they could open their stockings.  So that gave them a few gifts as a distraction and kept them preoccupied for a half hour or so. After that, the second activity was that they had to build one of the gifts that we had given them in their stockings.  This would usually be a Lego set, as many pieces as was safe for their respective ages.  I remember one year, instead of Lego, we gave them little pipe cleaner puff ball animals to construct but didn’t read the packaging – we should have put out glue, but didn’t.  Amazing what a kid can do to make it work – it wasn’t pretty but they put together their little mutated critters so they could move onto the final required activity – making Mom and Dad breakfast.  When they were little this was obviously something simple.  As they got older, we got wiser.  We’d ask for a full blown hot breakfast.

After that the free-for-all started.  Paper flying, kids laughing, Kevin beaming and me just content, glad that it had finally arrived, and hopeful that it would be fantastic for everyone.   The phone would start to ring as friends and family called, and soon afterwards family would start to arrive at the house.  In the very early days I could have somewhere between 20 to 25 people at the house for dinner – and we’d do a full sit down dinner. Kevin thrived on the chaos and with his big voice he’d settle everybody in and start the meal off with a toast.  The food consumed and, with some having eaten too much, people would start to vanish, looking for places to stretch out and snooze off the meal – no bed was off limits.

Over the years the number of people coming to the house has dwindled, for the obvious reasons – my parents and my husband’s parents are all gone, family members have moved away or divorced – and in the last three years we lost two very significant participants in Christmas.  Two larger than life characters: Kevin, and his nephew Terry.  Gone too soon.

So this year I find myself quite detached about Christmas and with respect to the meal preparations in particular.  I view it more as a function and not with the usual anticipation I would have, but interestingly, so far it isn’t stressing me out – there will be plenty of food, and it will taste good.  At this point in time I feel a bit like an automation, emotions removed, tasks identified, activities underway.  I don’t what’s better – to feel too little or to feel too much.

Call me … maybe

It’s time to bare my soul a little.  Although I write this about my own situation, I suspect that a small fragment of those recently bereaved may identify with my thoughts below.

During my marriage with Kevin I had a deep feeling of belonging.  I knew that I mattered to him, he knew he mattered to me.  With his death, I find myself wondering how much I matter.  Not with respect to my family, the bond there is very strong.  I wonder how much I matter in general.  Is this insecurity resulting from loss or is it a natural reassessment of my place here on earth?  They are not the same thing and quite simply I don’t know which it is.  All I know is that sometimes I wonder how much and to whom do I really matter?

I think that mattering for most people is very important.  I know that if I asked, most of the people I know would say ‘of course you matter,’ and they’d mean it.  But what does mattering to someone mean?  How is it conveyed?  Is it by picking up the phone and calling them, stopping by for a visit?  Does it mean thinking about them, praying for them?  Everyone is different and has different needs in this regard.

Being in a relationship generally sends the message of belonging, value and also that you matter to someone.  This is, in most cases, a comforting and desirable state.  When a relationship ends it brings with it emptiness and some sort of self-reflection, often a reassessment of one’s worth.  During this phase I think there are a myriad of paths that one can take, some good, some bad. I think this is where it becomes important to know that you do matter, because, regardless of circumstances, knowing that you matter can help you make the right choices and decisions moving forward.

So how do you know if you matter?  For me, it’s a question that I can only answer for myself.  During this bereavement process I find that I need different things at different times and from different people. So far, have they been there for me?  For the most part, yes.  I have to qualify that answer for the obvious reason – if people don’t know what I need, then they can’t be there for me, because they don’t know what I need.  It’s a communication thing and the onus is on me.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to shut down, withdraw and stop the communication, so much easier than you would believe.  Then, having created my own self-imposed isolation, my thoughts tend be unsettling, without focus, accompanied by the worry that maybe I just don’t matter.

Thankfully I feel like I am on the other side of this mindset now.  I still have occasions where I could easily shut down, especially with the added emotional pressure that this year’s Christmas brings.  People really do want me to be excited about Christmas and some seem compelled to try and lift my spirits. Their intentions are good and I recognize that; however, this activity does the opposite – it painfully reinforces the loss and associated sadness rather than the joy of the season.  A few months ago, I likely would have shut down; now, instead, I think about shutting down but don’t. A small step forward, but still a step.