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.

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.

 

The Squirrel

One a Sunday morning three weeks after my husband died, I was dressed early for church.  I got an extra cup of coffee and went to sit on my favorite porch.  It was another beautiful August morning in Carolina.  The birds were singing and squirrels were playing.  Usually the squirrels play up in the very old, tall and abundant trees.  They are fascinating as they chase each other and jump from one tree to another.

But my eye went to a squirrel on the ground.  It is very unusual to find a squirrel on the ground in our yard. This squirrel was a very light grey.  Most of our squirrels are darker grey and some look almost black.  So I watched this squirrel.  He ran along the ground and jumped up on some lounge chairs in the yard.  He then turned to face me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty.  It was hilarious.

I watched with fascination.  I had seen that action before.  My husband had a curvature in his spine at the neck and the build of the squirrel mimicked his body.  It was very interesting.  After several shake, shake, shake, shakes, the squirrel looked up at me and bounded off of the lounge and went on the ground closer to the lake.  He climb up a four by four that use to be a post for a swing.  He stood up on the top of the post, faced me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty. Right, left, right, left, right, left.  He was dancing for me.

I got up and went inside to tell my son-in-law that my husband was outside in the body of a squirrel and putting on a show for me.  What a laugh that got out of him.  So I went back outside to see if the squirrel was still there.  When I got outside, the squirrel was coming closer to the house and headed up the hill to where there we some flower pots on the ground and a ladder leaning against the tree.

I said to myself, “if that squirrel climbs that ladder, I will know it is my husband showing out for me.”  I watched in wonderment.  The squirrel nosed around for a few minutes in the pots.  Then he turned toward me and looked.  The next thing I saw was the squirrel climbing to the top of this eight foot ladder, standing on the very top of it.  He faced me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty.  It was so funny.  He looked so much like my husband personified as a squirrel.

Sure, I know what you are thinking now.  I have really gone off the deep end.  I have really become so out there that I am seeing things.  But, I know what I saw.  I also know that God has a sense of humor.  I know that God is with me.  I know that God wants me to be close to Him and to His world.  He wants me to remember my husband and the fun moments we had.  He does not want me to be sad.  My husband is in a good place and I need to feel this in a positive light.  So I do believe I saw my husband packaged in that light grey squirrel shaking his booty for me.  And it was a super reminder of the laughs we shared in our 53 years of enjoying life.  God is good.

 

 

The Club

Right after my husband died a good friend of my daughter came to visit me.  She had lost her husband a year earlier.  As we were talking about the sudden life we found ourselves in after the loss of a husband, we both mentioned the word WIDOW.  I told her I found the word itself a horrible string of letters.  It had no positive attributes.  There was nothing pleasant about the title.

I have been used to respectable and loved titles.  Words such as MOTHER, WIFE, BRIDE, GRANDMOTHER, GREAT GRANDMOTHER, TEACHER, DOCTOR, FRIEND, NEIGHBOR, SISTER, SISTER-IN-LAW, DEACON, LEADER, GRADUATE.  All of my titles have had a pleasant meaning.  They have all meant that I had either accomplished something or had persons that loved and thought well of me.

Now, when I fill out forms I have to check a box called WIDOW.  It is as if I was now a strange person.  What would happen if I did not check it?  What if I were to just say I was single?  Would I lose points of some kind? Would I not win some prize?  It is like when you go to buy an airline ticket.  They want to know how many seniors are traveling.  You don’t get a reduced price because you are old.  Do they just want to know how many they may have to help lift their carry-ons into the bin?

One of my very best friends said,” Welcome to the Club of Widows”.  It is the only group you will join by no choice.  It is the only group of which you will hate to be a member.  It is the only group where you wish you had never become a member. This membership means that you are lonesome and feel lost.  It means you have moments when you just want to hide. It means that some days you would prefer to stay in bed and let the world move on without you.  It means that when you are in a social group, you smile but you are not happy inside.  It means that you have to be careful or you will choose to be a hermit.

I have been told that your social group will change.  You will not be invited to the couples club any longer.  You are the fifth wheel.  I am so afraid of that. My husband was such a part of me that all of my friends were his friends also.  I don’t want to lose my good couple friends.  I don’t want to be treated differently.  I want to be included just as I was when he was alive.

I know the moment he died my life changed.  I now “sleep single in a double bed”.  I now have to carry out the garbage, pump the gas, keep up the cars, and do so many things that I counted on him to do.  I now go through the day and night and talk to myself because he is not here.

My life is already so different.  So I am rebelling.  Enough is enough.  I just don’t want to be a card carrying member of the WIDOW’s CLUB.  Thank you very much.

The Children’s Memorial

When my husband died he was playing in the lake with children, grandchildren and neighbors.  Playing with him was a thirteen and seventeen year old granddaughters.  It was sudden.  It was a shock.  One moment they were playing and the next they turned around and he was not there.

Poppy was greatly loved by his grandchildren.  He knew how to play with them.  He had great wisdom he shared with them and on their level.  He never got angry with them.  He was always there for them.  He was a great granddad.

So we were concerned about our thirteen grandchildren.  Especially the ones that were still at home and involved so much with him.  We were given the gift of using a Victims Advocate to come and talk with all of the grandchildren.  She did it in small groups.  One of the suggestions that she made to them was to have their own memorial service.

The adults were planning a memorial service but it was geared more for adults.  So we set about doing a informal memorial service geared for the children.  It was held on Saturday evening the day before the adult service.  We gathered at the lake edge with lawn chairs.  There were lots of our friends that had traveled from long distances and neighbors who had walked down from their houses.  It was a large crowd and we had a period of being social and enjoying each others company.  There were lots of children and it was a time for them to run and tease and have fun.  It was not solemn nor sad.

When everyone was comfortable, I welcomed them.  It was for the kids so I did not talk much except to say this was their celebration of Poppy’s life.  Then each girl, grandchildren and any other girl that knew Poppy was given a long stem rose.  They took turns telling about Poppy.  Stories and fun things that they remembered.  One sweet, sweet child said, ” I did not know his name.  I just always called him my BFF”.   At the end of the stories all of the girls went to the edge of the lake and threw their roses into the lake.

Then it was the boy’s turn.  My adult sons had gone to the fireworks store and bought beautiful fireworks.  We all sat there as the sun was setting on this lovely lake that had been a party to my husband’s death and watched as the boy’s of all ages set off bright colored fireworks over the lake.

As we sat there and watched, it was like being in a cathedral.  The beauty of the lake, the glorious sunset, the colors of the fireworks and the gathering of family and friends.  It was as lovely a tribute to Poppy as could ever been imagined.  It was the start of the healing.  It gave us a point to move from the shock to the love of remembering.  It was designed to be the children’s memorial but it was as meaningful as the adult memorial the next day.  A tribute to the man we all loved and respected.  We called him “Poppy”.

IGNORE IT OR NOT

Last night I went to a support group for persons that were dealing with the death of a loved one.  As I listen to other people share their experience, I become aware of how amazed people seem about death.  I want to shake them and say, “Are you nuts?  You are shocked that someone died?  Did you not expect death?  Do you know anyone that lived forever?”

I get it.  We are shocked when it happens.  When my husband died, I was shocked.  He was 76 and in good health.  His father lived into his 90s and his mother died at 87.  So he talked about his good genes.  And then he drowned.  So, yes, I was shocked on that day that his death had been at an early age.

But we had talked about death.  It is a transition from one part of life to another. Period. As a Christian, it is a positive transition from one part of life to another.  The only sad part of death is missing the daily presence of that other person.  But knowing that other person is now in a glorious home where we all desire to be, is fine with me.  I look forward to being there also. How can you live each day as a person and not be aware that you or someone you love may die immediately.  It is as clear a fact as you breathing each moment.

Don’t get me wrong.  I miss my husband.  I mostly miss his companionship.  I miss his hugs.  I miss the things he did for me.  I miss his role in the family.  I have my moments of sadness.  I have triggers like a song I hear or someone’s voice that sounds like his or seeing something that was very special to the two of us.  I miss him so much.

But I expected to miss him.  I expected him to die.  Not in the way he did, nor at age 76, but I knew this would happen.  I had visited this in my mind.  My daughter said to me last night that maybe part of out grief journey is in our expectations.  I think she is right. I listened to people last night and wanted to say them, “What did you expect?”  They talked about lingering illnesses and older persons dying.  “What did you expect?”  Did you not think about the future?  Did you not prepare for this moment?

There are two things that I think has helped me in this process.  One is my perception of life.  I see life and death as one.  It is a continuous life.  Death is just the transition from one dimension to the next. And it happens to everyone.  As a Christian, it is a happy transition.

The second is the preparation and the expectation of this transition.  I was not surprised it happened.  I was surprised it happened at 76 and by drowning.  But not that it happened.  I prepared myself with the legal paperwork, by living each day to the fullest with my husband, and with the expectation that every day together was a gift not a given. I want to say to everyone.  Get with the program.  Don’t ignore the inevitable.  Live and enjoy each other and expect that tomorrow you may be separated. Be joyous in the transition.