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.

Memorial Service

When a person you love transitions from this world to the next, you need to provide an opportunity to respectfully remember them.  This can be a funeral or a memorial service.  Now I think of a funeral as a respectful remembrance ceremony where there is the final remains of the transitioned person.  I think of a memorial service as a respectful remembrance ceremony without the remains.  Just giving you my definition.  Don’t know if there is really a difference.

But it is the duty or chore or job of the family to put this ceremony together.  Not an easy thing to pull off.  You want to honor your loved one but you don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or create a sea of depression.

And some people attend a memorial service out of feelings of obligation.  Others have no choice because of the relationship such as being a member of the family or a co-worker or a person’s boss.  Essentially it is not at the top of a person’s “I want to” list.  So when you are planning the service, you want people to breathe a sigh of relief when it is a pleasant experience and not a downer.

There are many choices needing to be made.  Who will preside?  What special words do you want spoken?  What type of music and what specific songs should be included?  What should the program look like?

The first decision is to find a funeral home to help you.  This is hard.  You want someone that you trust.  You want someone that will listen and guide you instead of selling you the biggest funeral that they have.  Oh, yes.  It is a product that you are buying, and you are vulnerable so sometimes you spend more money with the encourgagement of the funeral director.  You need a person with reason to help you.

We were very lucky.  My husband and I had talked about dying many times.  We both looked around and realized that this was a natural thing that happened to all people.  So it was smart to think about it and be prepared.  So I knew exactly what he wanted and what I should do.  I knew the funeral home he trusted and I also knew that I could be careful in what I spent.

The program became a group project for the family.  A little bit of serious, a little bit of funny and a comfortable amount of talking about my husband.  Remembering the agenda kept us on target.  We were not preaching to the lost, we were honoring my husband and remembering the good times in his life.

Since we have a large family we got the children involved in drawing pictures and displaying lots of photos of the fun times we had with Poppy.  We quoted Dr. Suess as well as C.S. Lewis and the Bible.  We had modern songs and old favorites.  And we had a flag ceremony to remember his time serving in the Air Force.

I enjoyed the memorial service.  It was a great mixture of his life.  It was not sad.  There were serious parts and there was laughter.  I felt him there and he was enjoying it with us.  My husband was a very loved man and his service reflected his valued life and all that he gave to us.  It was our time to say,” We love you, we honor and respect you and we will always remember you”. He left a legacy and I feel we honored his legacy through his service.

Food, Eat, Food, Eat

My family is a food conscious family.  That means that we are very conscious of what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, how we eat and what food does to our bodies.  We eat what is called Ketogenics.  And we do not play around with eating.  We are serious about this human activity.  My daughter actually blogs about our daily food.  She makes up recipes and puts them on line.  Her blog is Pink Daisies, which I highly recommend.

When a tragedy happens, we, as a people, show our love and concern by bringing food to the persons involved.  And this food, by definition, is comfort food.  Now comfort food means carbs and sugars all in the form of pastas, deserts, casseroles, and breads.  Yum and yum and YUM.

So when my husband died, food appeared by the truckload. It was wonderful food.  When you bring food to a tragedy, you bring your best recipe.  This is your pride and joy and you know it is good.  So we had the best of the best loaded into our house.  And it is common knowledge that when the best of the best of food is in your house you are required to eat it.  There is the rule that you must eat and eat and eat. Yum, Yum and YUM!

So I followed the rule.  And it made me so happy.  My children would hand me a plate of food during the “smothering mothering” period and I ate.  I never missed a meal.  The food called my name.  It soothed my spirit. Since I was not sleeping much I would get up during the night and roam the house.  At three  O’ clock in the morning I would be roaming around and think, “There is a lemon pound cake in the kitchen.  Yum”.  And then I suddenly would have a piece of cake in my hand and I was eating.  I just don’t understand how that happened but I was so happy.

And, of course, growing up in the home of parents of the depression, you do not waste anything.  So all of the food had to be eaten.  Now this was not a chore.  The food was delicious.  It was the best of the best of some great cooks.  So it was a pleasure to eat it.  And it was the rule.  You had to eat it.  And you could not waste any of it, so you were required to eat it.  Yum.

I am not sure how this happened but I am now fifteen pounds heavier than when my husband died.  And all of the food has disapearred. So now I am faced with the reality that although I did a wonderful thing and enjoyed every mouth full of the delicious food and it made me very happy, I have to make amends.  Just like all of the other areas of my life where I am having to transition, I am going to have to get back to the “healthy” way of eating.  It was a great trip and I was so appreciative of all of the people that brought their food.  My family did not have to worry about how we were going to eat during the tragedy, but it is now time to move on.

So my promise to myself is to go back to healthy and have good memories of the great food and fabulous memories of the people that brought their best of best recipes which I did wonderful justice to by eating every bite.  Yum.

 

Connecting with People

The days following the death of my husband was like a major reunion.  There was a constant flow of people in my home.  Some of these people I had not seen for many years.  Others I had just seen the day before.  But they came and they came and they came.  Sometimes one group would overlap with another.

It was so wonderful.  The visits did so much for me.  First and foremost, I was so pleased that people respected my husband enough to get in a car and drive to my house and spend time with me, honoring my husband.  It takes energy to visit someone.  You have to carve out time in a busy schedule.  You have to drive to our house which is not on the beaten path to anywhere.  Then you have to go into an unknown environment.  Will this be a group of crying people or will you feel uncomfortable?  It is not easy to be a visitor.

The visits were a great distraction for me.  I could focus on the people coming through my door.  I was meeting new people. I was reconnecting people of my past. Friends of my children, colleagues of my children, friends of my childhood, persons that we worship with at our church, neighbors, friends that we partied with as my husband and I were a young couple, friends that I went to school with and people that we had known forever.

Having people to focus on allowed me to move off of the sadness and the sense of loss.  We told “remember when” stories.  We updated information about jobs, children, homes, hobbies, retirement and activities.  We laughed, joked and had a good time. The visits were a great time to breathe, and act as if nothing had happen.

The visits were also a glimpse of my new world.  I was entertaining guests without my husband.  Something that I had not done for almost 53 years.  My new social group was myself and my adult children.  I was reconnecting with people that would properly play a role in my new life.  I did not grasp that at the time but it was a gentle introduction to my future.

The visits also let the time move by rapidly.  I cannot imagine sitting alone after a tragedy and counting the hours until a memorial service.  At a time like this everything stops.  Your regular routine does not exist anymore.  Appointments are cancelled, and daily activities are not conducted.  Time hangs in the air.  Visits keep you occupied and moves you through the days.

I am so thankful to people for the decision to visit me and my family.  I was very surprised at the number of people that came.  But I was so happy when they came.  I was reconnected to people of the past, and I was connected to new people.  I know how much energy and effort it took to visit and I want people to know how important it is to visit.  It is therapeutic for both parties.

God made us to be social.  We know that babies will not develop if they are held in isolation.  And especially when our world is threatened or destroyed, we have a need to be social.  Reaching out and connecting pulls us through the worst of events.

 

Life Goes On

I wrestled with God all night long after my husband died.  I agonized.  I questioned.  I argued.  I disagreed.  I expressed anger.  I visualized over and over and over the event that led to my husband’s death.  I never slept.  By morning, I was exhausted.

But I had made peace with God’s decision.  I was not happy nor was I still angry.  I understood that God had made the decision.  It was no human error not lack of attention to my husband’s well being.  It was simply that God wanted him back in heaven and he had the power to make His will happen.

So I got out of bed and went downstairs for coffee.  I brewed my cup and walked out on the porch.  As soon as I stepped on the porch, I stopped.  It was a typical summer Carolina morning.  The birds were singing a loud chorus of beautiful songs.  So many pitches, so many differences in calls and volumes.  It sounded tropical.  The sky was the gorgeous bright Carolina Blue.  So vivid it looked like a color off of the artists’ pallet.  The greens of the trees were neon with the different hues of summer growth.  The multitude of squirrels were chasing each other and playing tag.

It was everything that you could hope for on a gorgeous summer morning in South Carolina.  But it was all wrong.  It was suppose to be dark.  It was suppose to be gloomy.  It was suppose to be depressing.  It was suppose to reflect my world as it now exists.  This was terribly wrong.

Life was not happy and vibrant.  Life could not be busy and interesting.  Didn’t the squirrels know that my husband had died?  Didn’t they know my world had fallen apart.  How dare they run and play and look happy.  Didn’t the birds know that they should be silent in respect for the great tragedy that had happen in my life.  What was wrong with them singing out loud with their usual choral symphony.

Where were the clouds and the rain and the ugly part of the world.  How dare the sun to shine and offer beauty to the sky.  How dare the lake to be smooth and calm and blue and inviting.  Did it not realize that just yesterday it had been a party to destroying my life?

I sat down and took a few breaths.  I was ready to yell at God again for throwing such a sight in my face.  After all He had caused it all.  At least He could make nature reflect the hurt in my heart.  It was as if my loss was insignificant and not worthy of reflection in the natural part of the world.

Then God gently said to me.  I know you hurt.  I know you are sad.  I know your world will never be the same.  But I promise to take care of you.  I will never leave you and I will never give you more than you can handle.  You can do this. You can be strong.  Your husband is with me and we both expect you to carry on.

So embrace the beauty of the world.  Love it.  See Me in it.  Because life goes on.

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.

How to Rate a Neighbor

I had never thought about whether I was a good or bad neighbor.  I have always been friendly, tried to mind my own business, spoken to everyone, waved and smiled and when asked, I would try to accommodate requests.  Was I a good neighbor?  I don’t know.  For most of my adult life, I lived on acreage and did not have neighbors that were 20 feet away.  But was that just an excuse?

I have been exposed to neighbors that are unbelievable.  When my husband died they all appeared.  They did not stop at the door and ask to come in.  They opened the door, came in and took over.  They never came to me to ask advice about what they should do.  They took over.  They never asked me where I kept silverware or glassware or tupperware.  They took over.

I have never been cared for so well and and with so much love by those outside the family.  They were the host and hostesses for my house.  I was left to deal with my loss and the necessary decisions of my loss.  I was free to go to my room and lay down if I needed to.  I was free to go to the funeral home and to visit with the constant numbers of people that came to the house.  They took over.

They bought food and water. They organized food.  They greeted people.  They cleaned areas of the house. They held hands with us. They cried with us.  They planned with us. They processed with us.  They took over.

My husband died on Saturday.  They were there on Saturday.  They were there on Sunday.  They were there on Monday.  They were there on Tuesday.  They took turns and seemed to organize their schedule.  By Wednesday, they let us know that they were dropping by less because we needed less.  We now had lots of relatives to be there.  By Thursday they would check in but not stay long.

It was like a choreographed dance.  They could sense what we needed and when we needed it.  The never pushed into my business but they gave off a sense of being available.  They worked in the shadows but let their presence known when there was a need.  I am a very independent and private person but I did not feel they interfered with my privacy.

I often have wondered if they took a course on “How to be a Good Neighbor” because they were experts in the field.  I am not sure that I could ever do a neighbor job as good as these folks did.  I just hope that I have learned some things that I can use when it is my turn to be the good neighbor.  Right now I can just say, “thank you, thank you, thank you”.  You were so wonderful because you took over.