One of the many Voids

As life rolls along, we are not very conscious of the specifics of daily actions.  We get caught up in our to do list, take actions and perform tasks and count it as normal behaviors.  We don’t sit down each night and evaluate what was done, by whom and whether the actions were excellent, good or poor.

Most of us live with others and we melt together as each person takes on roles and responsibilities.  Some people fix the coffee each morning, others load the dishwasher, while others pay bills or cook.  The fact is, all of us fall into a routine of doing our thing.

I enjoy cleaning while Ray, my husband, was a lover of laundry.  I did the taxes while he paid the bills.  After 53 years, we were a great team that had divided all chores and did not have to say, “Are you going to take out the trash?”

You may say we had fallen into a comfortable living where we very seldom had to ask each other their thoughts or feelings.  We just knew because we had shared everything and had grown to be almost one.  I think that is a successful marriage.  We never took each other for granted but we had a definite division of labor.

Since July when he died, I find myself overwhelmed with tasks that I never had to do before.  I am at the beach house and we have just survived 8 days of subfreezing weather.  It seems like it was a month.

Dripping water each night to keep the lines from freezing.  Trying to understand what to do with water lines under the pools and how to turn breaker boxes off to protect things.  Figuring out how to turn off water to the house because there are now leaks in water lines because we are finally above freezing.

I had to hire plumbers, electricians, and painters.  I had always been the 2nd in command of our many building projects, but now find I am the leader.

I am not qualified to be the leader.  This is being baptized by fire.  I am using a compressor, a nail gun, buying equipment and making decisions as if I were trained to do it.

Frankly, I would much rather be 2nd in command.  It was so comforting knowing that Ray knew what he was doing and I could just relax.  But there are two lessons in what I am now going through.

  1. Husbands, thank your wife each day for the great job she is doing as she juggles her schedule and does her assigned tasks. Wives, thank your husband each day and hug him for all the things he does in his role and his assigned tasks.
  2. Pretend that your partner might disappear tomorrow and you have to do your and your partners chores.  Pay attention to the details.  How do you care for the car?  Where are the records for the maintenance of the house and the vehicles?

Have discussions on each others’ tasks so you will know how it is done, who needs to be notified, what vendors are your favorite, and what skills you need to be able to take over.

Over and over I say, pay attention.  You are not promised tomorrow.  But as much as Ray and I talked about the possibility, I have so much to learn by trial and error.

Thankfully, I think I am doing pretty good.  But I know that I cannot take the credit.  God is with me every morning as I think of the new chores I have to accomplish.  He is guiding me and helping me and I am so thankful.  It is not easy doing both jobs.  But I am learning.

STRESSED PEOPLE

The first time I went into public by myself after the death of my husband was to run a few errands.  I went to a shopping center to pick up a few things.

I don’t know why I noticed people more than usual.  Maybe it was because I was just more sensitive than before.  Maybe my perception of life had changed.

That day, I saw some very stressed, unhappy and harried folks.  It was still early in the day when you would think life would be easy going. This was after coffee, the kids are in school and you can get on to your time of day.

I saw people standing in the line to get checked out of the stores that were impatient. Looking at their watches.  Not impatient with the check out person, just worried about time and pressures of their “to do lists”.  I saw toddlers being dragged around stores that were certainly not happy about their situations.

Store after store, I observed these unhappy people.  Seemingly upset over mundane lists and life-centered problems.  They seemed to be preoccupied with daily errands and were stressed about chores so early in the morning.

I finally could take it no more.  In between stops, I parked and had a good cry. I wanted to turn to these people and shout, “STOP, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS IMPORTANT!”  Did they realize that those lists and those errands would be of no importance in a blink of an eye if they lost a loved one?

I wanted to shake them and say, “GO HOME AND HUG YOUR HUSBAND.  CARESS THAT TIRED TODDLER.  LISTEN TO THE TALES OF YOUR SIX YEAR OLD”.  We take for granted that they will be there tomorrow and we will have more time.

In reality, we all get caught up in the necessities of living.  We all have obligations to fulfill.  Some we care about and some we do not.  But there has to be a balance.

You have to put the love of God, the love of your special partner and the love of family at the top of the list.  All of the rest is filler.  Also, it cannot take more of the time and energy than you are willing to give.

Balance.

Knowing how to balance so that we aren’t stressed and that we can face each day relaxed and at peace.  I will guarantee that a morning prayer asking God to give us the grace to live an unstressed day and a day that focuses on the right things will be the answer.

Start by thanking Him that you have awakened to see another sunrise and that you will welcome Him by your side in all of your chores.  Ask Him to guide you in a balanced, loving day.

You will be amazed at how life takes on a different meaning.

Multi-Generational Living

When my husband and I started to design our house many years ago, we wanted a large house that many people could enjoy.  As the design progressed and the days moved on we realized that we wanted to have a place that we could be assured living our lives out with those that we loved.

Now most people do not understand multi-generational living.  And I would be the first to say it is not for everyone.  Basically, it is when more than one generation lives together in a cohabitation arrangement.  That means that everyone has roles that are clearly defined and everyone pitches in to make the living arrangements comfortable for all persons.

That being said, there are some guidelines that must be followed for the living to be successful.  Expenses are shared.  This is not a “let’s move home and mooch off Mom and Dad”.  It is assigning certain expenses to each person living there so all people carry the burden of the cost of living.

It also means everyone must share in the chores.  This is not a situation where mom does the laundry or picks up after a lazy adult child.  Mom might be retired but she did not retire to be a slave to others.

Everyone has chores that they prefer to do.  Some people are talented cooks.  Others don’t mind cleaning.  Some people are responsible for carrying out trash, watering plants or doing yard work. You get the picture.  All general living chores are divided up between inhabitants.

A major component of multi-generational living is knowing how to communicate. If you can’t talk subjects out, best not try living together.  In some homes there are subjects that are just not touched.  Politics and religion are off limits in some homes.  We happen to be of like minds in our house and can talk about almost anything without getting upset.  But you have to be willing to set limits.

One other consideration is parenting.  We go with the thought that “It takes a village to raise a child”.  So we all sort of co-parent.  But I know other folks where only the parents do the parenting.  You have to communicate about the roles persons need to play as you all live together.

A final area is respect.  You have to respect everyone’s personal property and the need for everyone’s privacy.  Sometimes we love to be together.  Other times, we need our space.  Understanding that each person is an individual and should be respected is essential in living together.

I love living multi-generational.  It keeps me young.  I know the latest fads, slang and dress of the teens.  I understand the issues of the forty somethings.  I listen to music, ideas, philosophies, that I would not be exposed to if I lived among only my generation.  I eat foods I would not touch without the encouragement of the younger people.  I venture into activities I would not be invited to if not for the younger ones.

But most of all, I have been saved since my husband died because I have people that are with me almost 24/7.  I do not have to be alone unless I choose to be.  I am cared for and kept busy by my wonderful live-ins.  I am a social person but I am also a private person. But I cannot imagine having to go through this tragedy without my roommates.  It may not work for everyone but it is the wave of the future and it is a wonderful way to face the real world.  Love you guys.

Distractions

Busy, busy, busy.

That is my new motto.
Stay busy.
Keep moving.
Keep doing.

Wake up with a things to do list and don’t stop until it is finished.  There is lots to do and I need to get it all done.

I believe that distractions are the key to keeping sadness at bay.  If you don’t have time to think about the loss in your life you will not have time to focus on the sadness.

My children have been great to help me with this plan. In less than four months, I have traveled to Boston for a week, Seattle for a week, Phoenix for a week, the beach three times, the mountains one time, Ohio one time and (at the time of writing this) am in Healy, Alaska.  I have cleaned, organized, learned new things, visited the sick, written lots of letters, worked puzzles, painted walls and generally stayed busy.

I have found that when my “things to do list” gets done too fast, I have time to think. Having time to think is my enemy.  When I am not busy I begin to travel back in time and remember when my husband was alive and when we were having fun and doing things together.  I miss him greatly and that leads me directly into sadness.

They say that time is on your side.  As time goes forward you will heal.  You need time to move so you are further from the loss.  I am not sure what the words “closure” and “healing” really mean.  But when I am not busy, time stands still.  When I am not busy, time drags and the days are long.

I believe that your mind controls your thoughts and your thoughts control your moods and your emotions.  So if your mind is focused on your “things to do list”, you do not have time to let your thoughts go to the things that will make your mood get sullen and your emotions become sad.

Others say that you need to process for “closure” and “healing” to take place.  But when I think about processing it takes me back to thinking about my loss and thinking about my loss takes me into sadness.

Maybe I am all wrong.  Maybe someday I will wake up and find that I have just put it all off.  I may see that I have locked everything away in a trunk for another day. I may find that I totally fall apart.  Maybe I will someday become a basket case.

But I don’t think so.  I have made my peace with God.  I have processed the death.  I have reviewed my personal thinking about life and death.  I have come to terms with my new life.  I can talk about my sweet husband without being sad.  I can remember our fun life and reflect on the past sometimes without being emotional.

I really believe I am doing OK.  But I know that I am better on the days that I am busy, busy, busy.  When I was doing grief seminars (yeah, imagine that) I taught all the theoretical concepts of the grieving process.  I studied the experts and I, as Dr. Priestino, presented the information as if it were the tried and true.

But if I were to do that today, after I have lived the experience, I would have a different story to tell.  I believe you need to process, think, review and then stay very busy to get through it.  Yes there is shock, denial, etc. but essentially it is acceptance and stay busy, busy, busy.  Thank you God for giving me caring children and good friends that will keep me distracted.

 

 

CRYING

When there is something hurtful, either physical or emotional, the natural response is to cry.  Obviously, tears were shed when my husband died.  It was the display of a horrible event.  It was the natural thing to do when the hurt was so deep.

As the days went by I was encouraged to cry.  “Let it out” I was told.  “It is helpful to cry”.  “You will feel better if you cry”.  “Crying will cleanse your soul”.

I am here to tell you that I don’t agree with any of those statements.  But to be honest, I have made the same statement to many people.  I really believed it to be true.  I thought there was something therapeutic about shedding tears.

Now I put these statements in the same category with those other myths my wonderful mother said to me.  You know, things like “If you cross your eyes they will get stuck like that forever” and “If you go outside without your coat you will catch a cold” and “If you swallow seeds they will grow in your stomach”.  We grow up and figure out that these are myths.  Now I believe that ‘crying is cleansing’ is yet another myth.

Don’t get me wrong.  Crying has a place in our lives.  Babies use crying to tell us something is wrong.  They are hungry, uncomfortable, sick or distressed.  It is a way to alert us that someone needs to pay attention.  Older children also use crying to let us know that they are hurt or need attention.  You fall off your bike, skin your knee and need to cry to alert someone that it hurts.

But crying does not make the hurt go away.  It is a way to get attention and to alert people to a need. But to me, crying is not cathartic.  It is not cleansing.  It is not therapeutic.  It gives me a headache.  It makes me more sad.  It deepens my despair.

I realize that I may feel this way because I see crying as a loss of control and…

let’s face it…

I am a control freak.  

There.  
I said it.  
I know it.  
I own it.  

I don’t know why or how I got this way but I do not want to let myself be out of control. Therefore, I do not like to cry.

I know all of my friends are trying to help me the best they can when I get emotional. After all, they heard the same myth from their mothers.  And they want to help me.  So I do appreciate them when they say I should cry it out.

I am trying hard to be rational, logic, sane and non-emotional.  I try to block all of the sad thoughts.  I try to put myself in control mode and think happy thoughts.

But just in case I am not successful, I will announce to you now…

My red eyes and sniffling nose is because I have bad allergies.
And I have lots of headaches these days.

Happy Birthday, Ray

My dear sweet husband was a New Year’s Baby.  I have a small ceramic shoe that he was given when he was the first child born in 1941 in Santa Monica, California.

On New Year’s eve each year, the family would watch the ball drop in Times Square, toast with champagne or similar liquid, sign Auld Lang Syne, kiss each other and then turn to Ray and sing Happy Birthday.

Many weeks ago we began to get concerned about how to celebrate New Years without “Poppy”.  I knew it was going to be tough getting through the holidays.  But we felt like New Year’s would be even harder than Christmas.

As a family, we committed to keep things positive.  We would talk about Poppy,  but we were not going to let it get to us.  We would think of something funny and bring the conversations to a upbeat level.  But what to do with his birthday?

The following was our plan and it worked well.  At 10 minutes after midnight, when we had watched the ball drop and we had hugged and toasted the new year, we had a birthday party.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to Poppy.  We had ice cream and cake.  Then we had a birthday gift exchange.

Instead of re-gifting or using a “white elephant gift” we each brought a gift that “Poppy” would have enjoyed.  Whenever Ray received a gift, he always said, “Oh, this is just what I always wanted”.  So saying that when we received a gift was a funny and respectful way to remember him.

When we sat down to have the gift exchange, we drew numbers and Cheri, the daughter in charge would call out a number and we would either choose a gift from the stack or “steal” one from another person.  We were all amazed at how clever people were in their gifts.

It seems that each year, “Poppy” got socks or underwear for his birthday and this was no exception.  Athletic socks were there as a gift.  He loved, loved, loved to play cards and so it was no surprise that two gifts included playing cards.

Although he became a teetotaler and hadn’t had a drink since the 90s, the kids remember how he loved his bourbon and coke.  So there was a salute to his drinking days in two of the gifts.  Because we traveled so much and had long, long drives, Ray would mix cans of trail mix to nibble on as he drove.  So, of course, trail mix was one of the gifts.  There was an Ocean Isle Beach hat, which is the island he loved so much.  There was even a fidget spinner.

The gift that brought us the most joy was a hammer.  Engraved in the side of the hammer was the statement, “I love building memories with you”.  We all knew Poppy well.

We have decided that this is a fun way to respectfully remember Ray on his birthday.  We look forward to continuing this tradition.

My hat is off to all of my children for helping us keep the spirits high and remember Ray.  It was good memories.  Happy Birthday, Ray.

Gonna Miss You

On the Wednesday morning after my husband had died on Saturday, I woke up at 6 am. It was a very quiet morning and the lake was as smooth as glass.  For a skiing family, this is a call to get out on the lake.  I looked at the dock and as I expected the ski boat was gone.  They were out there taking advantage of the beautiful day.

So I went downstairs, brewed a cup of coffee and stepped out on the porch.  In three steps I realized that something was wrong.  It was deathly quiet.  The usual sound of this porch is a constant chatter of song birds, the whirling of the humming birds up to the feeders as they fight each other for territory and the movement and chirps of the squirrels as they play tag with each other in the trees as children would on a playground. On this morning, none of these sounds were there.

It is always a symphony of blended voices of nature, harmonizing and producing a cacophony of interesting music. They chirp and call out and respond in the many pitches of the loud, soft, high and low sounds of the natural beings in the yard.  This day, none of them were singing.  None of them were playing.  None of them were scurrying or flying or fussing or discussing as they usually do.  It was quiet.

Suddenly, I heard a single loud mouth bird.  It was so loud and clear.  It was right there in the tree in front of me.  It said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you.”  I was astounded.  What did the bird say?  It flew from one tree to another, closer to me as I walked to the railing of the porch.

Once again it said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you”.  I looked up to see where it was coming from.  I could not see the bird.  I looked up again and I said, “I’m gonna miss you too.”  I knew without a doubt that God had set this scene up for me.  The sounds of nature had all been silenced so there was no chance that I would miss the message.  The chosen bird had a very loud mouth and I don’t know what it was but the rhythm and the volume has made me decide it was a cardinal.  It was the exact message that I needed to hear.  My husband was well, happy, content and letting me know that he would miss me.

A good friend gave me the book, Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy sometime after this experience.  In essence it tells of a divine encounter while she is on a quest to find peace. I enjoyed the book but I already had my divine encounter. I knew that God was letting me know that He had messages for me as I grew closer to Him through this tragic part of my life.

I think that it takes a life stopping event to halt us long enough to see the absolute blending of the physical and spiritual world. It is amazing how God has woven all of it together to let us feel and know His presence, His power and His love.  Although I grieve the loss of my greatest love, I thank God for the ability to draw closer to Him and experience the many encounters of his winks.

CARDS

Have you ever wondered if your card made a difference?  Sometimes we send cards because we care.  Sometimes we send cards because we feel obligated.  Sometimes we send cards so we can let others know we are good people.  You know, sitting around in a group and saying, ” I spent my morning sending get well cards. So many people seem to be sick”.

But what about the receiver?  Does it matter that we send cards.  Honestly, I cannot speak for other people, but I am so thankful that someone remembered me enough to take a card, write a note, address the envelope, stamp it and put it in the mail.  That is a chore. That takes time.  That takes brain power and physical energy.

Yesterday I started putting the cards we received, after my husband died, into plastic sleeves and into notebooks so we can read them over and over.  There are 182 cards.  Big cards, little cards, expensive cards, less expensive cards.  Lots of beautiful cards.  Cards of sunsets, sunrises, flowers, poems, butterflies, beaches, famous paintings, and so many more pretty things.

There were some homemade cards.  Clever and beautiful.  There were cards made by children.  So special.  There were computer generated cards that were personalized with Ray’s name in them.  I was so impressed.

But most impressive are the notes written in the cards by the sender.  There is so much care expressed in these notes.  You can feel the sentiment of the writer and how they are trying hard to show you how much they are hurting for you.  You can feel their agony as they are letting you know that they cannot imagine the shock and horror of this tragedy. They are sincere, honest and open with their feelings.

You can tell they are thinking, “What if this happened to me?  I cannot imagine the pain connected to a sudden death like this”.  On these pretty written pages you feel the raw emotions of your friends, family and acquaintances.  You feel the strong human expressions of love.

Cards can be bought for fifty cents or cards can be bought for several dollars.  If you buy in bulk they can be even less expensive.  Some of the sayings and poems in the cards are right on target to tell the story that you wish to send. As I sit and read the cards over and over, I can just visualize you at the counter picking out the one that says what you want it to say.  Card writers are marvelous with their wit and their understanding and their ability to hit the point.

But it is not the expense of the card nor the beauty of the card.  It is the note that is written by you that causes it to mean so much.  These notes are hard to write.  So many people said, “Words are just not available to let you know how much I hurt for you”.  I get it.  It is very hard to know what to say and how to say it.  But it is enough that you make the effort.

Just write the most honest and sincere thing in your head.  In a few words, open up your heart and let this person feel your joy, your hurt, your concern and your faith.  The receiver knows you are caring about them when you send the card.  Now let them see your feelings for them.  But do more than sign your name, write a few words to let the receiver know how you feel.

It does not matter if you spend 25 cents, 50 cents or four dollars on the card.  It is the written notes inside that mean so much.  I cherish every card that I got.  I read them over and over.  You bring me so much comfort.  I thank you all, my friends, that you spent the time, the energy, the effort to write to me and help me find my peace.

 

 

 

I’M NOT CRAZY

I don’t think I am crazy.  After you read several of my thoughts you may think I am crazy. But I think I am still sane.  Shortly after my husband died I would wake up in the night or early morning hours and look out of my window.  Now my bed is facing a bank of six large eight foot windows.

Early in the morning I would see this brightest of stars.  It was there so big and so bright. It was beckoning to me.  “See me” it would say.  Look at me.  I am here just for you to see.

It was mesmerizing.  It was so bright that you could not divert your eyes.  If there were other stars, this star was so much brighter and bolder you did not pay attention to the others.  So I would stare at this star.

Now I am not a student of the stars.  I remember when I was a Girl Scout and my wonderful leader would teach us the constellations.  I just did not get it.  I am fairly visual but I could not see a Lion or a Bear.  So I do not know much about the night sky.  I do not know if this was Venus or Mars or some other planet or star.

But I do know that it was a heavenly body that begged for my attention.  So I started waking every night to see this bright light in the sky.  In my mind, I imagined that this was my dearest friend that no longer shared the bed with me.  This was the spiritual image of my love.  This was the soul of my lost husband.

He called to me each night to notice him.  To share with him.  To talk to him and to feel comforted by his presence.  So I do.  Each night I love to see him and think of the days activities and let him know of my things to do list.  Each night I feel his approval of how I am progressing without his physical body.

Now, you think that is strange.  It gets worse.  I recently went to my mountain house. Way up there in northern North Carolina on a remote ten acres away from everything. At this house my bed is facing two large sliding glass doors that open onto the second floor deck.

At 6 am on the first morning there I wake up and, you guessed it, the star is there.  It was so bright and in your face.  No other star was visible.  Although the sky was dark, this beauty of a light was so bright it was hard to take your eyes off of it.

So we talked.  We laughed.  We enjoyed our presence with each other.

Later on that day, I started to consider the orientation of my bedrooms in each house.  At the lake I face South/Southwest.  In the mountains I face East/ Northeast.  Am I crazy? Are my eyes and mind playing tricks on me?  Do I miss my husband so much I am seeing things and trying to make them into something real?

I don’t know.  I don’t care.  I wake up to see my bright star.  I enjoy sharing and feeling comfort.  I feel an intimate pleasure in his presence.  Crazy or no crazy.  I love it. If it feels this good and helps me get through the days.  I will just be crazy.

SOME DEEP THOUGHTS

As you might guess, we have discussed a lot of theology since my husband died.  Was this God’s plan?  Do we all have our days numbered?  Are we born with a definite death date and way of dying?

So there has been a lot of thinking ,sharing, discussions and opinions on these topics. There has also been a lot of interesting thoughts thrown out.  I am not sure yet where I stand on any of these.  But I am willing to share what we have discussed.

Theory one is that, when we are born, there is a definite plan that is finite and is to be carried out in spite of what happens in other parts of our lives. This seems to me to be a bit rigid but then I am not the higher power so maybe that is the order of the world.  The Bible does talk about numbered days and the knowledge that God knows even the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30 And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered.) So who am I to say that there cannot be a master road map for our lives?

Theory two says that there is a basic master plan but there is also free will.  So there are choices we make and some of those choices will lead to death during our lives. This would include drinking while driving as a negative, as well as poor health choices.  One person suggested to me that we have as many as three or four scenarios when we are born and we basically could choose any one at any point to go back home to heaven.  If you stay through all of the plan, you have to go back on the last exit strategy.

Theory three has a larger role of free will.  We are born and we have lots of choices from the beginning and our choices play a large part in how and when we die.  Overriding all of this is the fact that, at any given time, God has the power and can and will call us back to heaven. So, in spite of our choices, our time may be up just because God wants us or needs us back home.

As I stated earlier, I am not sure where I stand on these theories yet.  I certainly believe in free will.  The Bible teaches about choices.  If theory one is a fact, it sure would be nice to know when you are dating to avoid falling in love with someone with a short term plan.  I have become interested in people’s thoughts about the transition from this physical world to the spiritual world.  I am surprised at the amount of books on the subject and the amount of research that is being done in the area.

I guess, there are a few facts that I do know.  (1) Everyone dies.  It is a natural part of life. Do not act surprised about death.  It is inevitable  (2) You are not promised tomorrow.  So be prepared.  Do not leave your house in the morning with assurance that you will return in the evening.  In other words, make your bed so you won’t be embarrassed.  (3) Get your affairs in order.  Your loved ones need not be burdened by your lazy lack of preparation.  Wills, labels on knick knacks, funeral plans and clean garages are to be done. (4) Get right with God.  Since you do not know how and when, you had better be on good terms with the power to be.  I mean intimate, talking every day terms.

The Big Bang might be a good TV show, but when I die, I am putting my stock in my Savior.  He has proven over and over to carry me through this world.  I just don’t think physics, chemistry, sticks and rocks have that same power.  I don’t have the answers about the theories.  But I do have the blessed assurance that God is real.