Sunday, December 13, 2015

Last Post

I've decided to stop posting on the Rudy and Denise Facebook page and blog.  Writing here started as something to pass along info on Rudy's progress quickly and efficiently.  Later, writing here became a cathartic process.  Now, it just makes me sad.  I need to figure out my new life and I don't really want to do that online.  I'll leave my posts open for awhile in case they can be helpful to others going through something similar.

By the way, these pages have been a gift in that they connected me with so many people who supported me in the worst of times.  The comments, prayers, best wishes and more helped me more than anyone will ever know.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Seven Months - My Reflections

There are many days when I can be thankful for what I once had and thankful for what I still have and determined to make the best of what I have.  This isn't one of those days.  Tomorrow at 9:15am, Rudy will have been gone for 7 months.

Most days this month, I have done what needs to be done.  I've managed to deal with Thanksgiving without resentment.  Now, I seem to have hit a bit of a slump in my determination to stay positive.  I haven't completely lost it, I really am determined, but I'm struggling.  I've been easy on myself for not always being a shining example of how to get on with life.  I know occasional slumps are to be expected.  Holidays probably make slumps worse.  I'm at peace with my slump.  That's sounds a bit funny.

I worked today on a little project with photos of Rudy.  I thought I was up for it and actually am quite pleased with what I accomplished.  When it was done, I went for a walk with the dogs, still thinking I was just fine.  My mind wandered.  I wasn't braced or careful with my thoughts. Pandora's grief box opened just enough to knock me for a loop.

Grief isn't just emotional.  It's physical.  These last 7 months, make that 13 months, have shown me the physical side.  It's probably different for others, but when a wave of grief hits me, first I can't breathe.  It feels like someone large is sitting on my chest. My lungs seem to stop working and my airway narrows all the way up through my neck. I feel it slowly narrowing. Next, I feel a pain in my chest.  I feel sure it's a piece of my heart chipping off.  Then come the tears.  Sometimes one.  Sometimes many. The number of tears don't always equal the amount of sadness.  There have been some mighty bad moments with no tears at all. When it's over, it takes about ten minutes or so to breathe normally and for my heart to feel right again.  It's not imagined.  These are actual physical symptoms.  If I were hooked up to monitors, they'd set off warning alarms, for sure.  I wonder if a grief wave is similar to incidents where people have panic attacks that mimic heart attacks.

Speaking of physical, there's one other thing that has been bothering me and I don't see anyone mentioning it in grief discussions.  I miss hugs.  Rudy was a champion hugger.  You can only hug a friend or relative for so long before it becomes awkward.  If you have kids or grandkids, you can hug them longer - long enough to keep you from going nutty.  If you don't have a long-hug candidate nearby, then it's a slow form of torture.  I remember a study about baby monkeys kept from motherly contact.  They all started rocking themselves as they slowly went crazy.  Am I on the fast track to crazy?  I'm rocking more these days.  Next thing you know, I may start grabbing strangers.  You'll hear them frantically screaming calling out, "She's hugging me and won't let go!"  If you have someone nearby who gives good hugs, don't take them or their hugs for granted.  By the way, my longing for a good hug does not translate to me being desperate to start dating.  I'm still damaged goods and don't plan to latch onto somebody who might "save me". Anyway, I think it must take a special kind of person to be willing to take on a widow.

There are several things that seem to be making a positive difference in my life -

Most importantly, I am surrounded by people who love me.  I have a wonderful family - both my side and Rudy's side.  I hate describing Rudy's side of the family that way, because they are MY family, too.  I have many, many friends who watch out for me.  I even have a few people new to my life who have taken me on and become important.  Our connection to people is what life is all about, right?  In the end, it's what really matters.

My 6 dogs and 2 cats have been both a curse and a blessing.  Mostly a blessing.  They run me ragged.  They cost a fortune.  They keep me from running off to  exotic locations.  Several of them have issues.  But they love me and I love them.  They are my family.  They make me laugh.  They love to snuggle.  They keep me from going off the deep end.

Getting outside is my equivalent of getting on a life raft.  I go on daily walks and I've been hiking, as well.  My dad and/or my dogs are my daily walking partners.  We walk around our property - it's about a mile all the way around.  It's always beautiful.  We have a pond, woods, pastures, and plenty of wildlife to watch.  It never gets old. As much as I dream of simplifying and downsizing, I love this place.  My friend, Susan, is my hiking partner.  We've been mostly going to state parks.  We prefer ones with water features - creeks, rivers, falls.  They'll all been just challenging enough to keep us focused.  Best of all, they've all been beautiful and sooooo worth the challenges.

An old book has become my new friend.  The book is Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  At one time, Oprah was promoting it as the best thing since sliced bread.  I bought it when it first came out (1995-ish) with the best of intentions, but it sat unread for years til I finally donated it to Goodwill.  A few months after Rudy died, I bought a used copy from Goodwill. Maybe the one I donated came full circle!  This time I started reading it daily (it's a daily journal).  Soon, I started underlining and writing notes in the margins.  Some days the message is nice, but nothing major.  Many days, the message seems to be written just for me.  This book has helped me along.  It's not a book for widows.  It's a book I'd recommend to any woman.

Even with all the positives in my life, lately this slump has been getting the best of me too often.  Maybe I will go through this struggling phase because it needs to be gone through.  Maybe I can't skip over or minimize any parts of the grief process without them eventually popping up.  Maybe I need to let my guard down for awhile.  Or maybe I'm having a really bad day and tomorrow I'll wake up with some newfound determination.  One thing is certain, I'm no longer certain of anything.  Ha! I think I'm channeling Yogi Berra.

Decorating for the holidays has been a joke. I pulled things out and put them back away, over and over.  I finally gave up.  I stubbornly thought for a bit that I could be OK with putting a few Christmas-y things on my dining table.  I'm packing those back up tomorrow.  I've decided to be tongue in cheek about it and put out a bowl of lemons.  When I go to the grocery store, if my attitude has improved, I might also get some oranges and cinnamon sticks to add to the bowl.  We'll see.  I doubt it.  I'm feeling a bit mad at life right now, so lemons seem fitting.  Sour grapes seem fitting as well, but they aren't very attractive and would probably smell bad, too.

I'll end on a nicer note with a photo of Rudy.  This is one of my favorite photos of him.   I haven't actually ranked his photos, but I'd be willing to bet if I did, this would be in the top five. Possibly THE favorite. The photo is old and faded.  It was taken in 1978.  He's a mess.  He's just come from a fishing trip and he's holding his catch.  I've never been a fan of fishing and I've definitely never been a fan of proudly holding up an animal you've just killed.  (Full disclaimer:  I eat meat and am completely aware that I am a big hypocrite.)   Despite all this, I love this photo.  This is the guy I fell in love with.  He's so happy!  Even filthy and holding a dead fish, he could charm me.  This is the guy who is causing me to lose my mind right now.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Ring In-Between

There's a part of being a new widow that had never occurred to me before.  It's a state of in-between.  Neither here nor there.  Afterloss Purgatory.

The first time the in-between-ness hit me was when filling out some paperwork and having to check a box for either single or married.  This was a test I hadn't studied for.  I really didn't know what to check and didn't like that I had to declare myself one way or the other.  Neither choice seemed correct.  I still feel married, but officially, I guess I'm not and that stupid form was making me say I was something I wasn't ready for.  There should be a box for UNCERTAIN or OTHER or IN-BETWEEN.

Strange.  I guess I'm single, but it feels wrong to check that box. Single sounds flirty, footloose, and fancy free.  It sounds like I should be out on the town on Saturday nights.  I'm not single like that.  But then, if there is no living spouse, I can't actually claim to be married either, can I?  I'm something in-between.

It occurred to me there might be an unofficial symbol of being in-between. If a widow still wears her wedding ring, she is somewhere in-between.

How the ring ties in to the in-between life of a widow came to me after reading a new post from a widow asking advice about when to take off her wedding ring.  How long to wear the wedding ring tends to be a hot topic on many widow blogs.   I come across new discussions on the topic at least every week or two.  The accepted answer from "professionals" is to take it off when you feel ready.  Some widows participating in these discussions can be VERY opinionated and passionate on the topic.  When do you take it off?  Do you ever take it off?  Many widows (especially those in over 50) vow to never take it off and a few of them word their opinion so strongly that you get the impression that anyone who does less obviously didn't love their husbands.  They don't come out and say that, but their message is annoyingly clear.
FYI - This is NOT my ring.

Is taking off the wedding ring a betrayal?  I read on one post, "Your wedding ring is a symbol of your love and commitment to your spouse."  Well, damn.  That sentence alone would pressure a widow to keep her rings on forever if she cared anything at all for her husband.  Sadly, there's an incredible amount of fear and guilt associated with taking off the wedding ring.  It's a symbol to some of dismissing your deceased spouse and is almost like a divorce.  Let that thought sink in.  Removing the ring is like divorcing the beloved wife or husband who died.  That's a really ugly thought, isn't it?  But, there it is.  I hope when I take my ring off, which I WILL do at some point, that no one thinks I'm over Rudy.  You never get over someone you loved.  I don't think any of the people who love me will feel that way.  I guess, if someone I know thinks that, then clearly, they don't know me very well.

Taking the ring off is also seen by some as announcing you're ready to be on the market. I don't like that thought, either. That's turning what should be a gradual transition from A to Z into one abrupt change, skipping all the baby steps in-between.   There are often many stages and emotions between Grieving Widow and Dating Widow.  Removing the ring might be one of those in-between stages.

I have decided to associate removing the ring with something less weighty.  Maybe it will mean I've decided to come to terms with the fact that I'm on my own and brave enough to handle it.  I've been trying to do that all along.  Some people think I've done it pretty well already.  I try to present a good on-my-own front and am proud of how I've handled myself, but, truthfully, I'm not there yet.
Removing the ring shouldn't be seen as a coming out party for widows.  No symbol is needed for that transition.  It's likely something that just happens when the time is right.   I have a feeling most widows don't enter that stage on their own. Most are probably coaxed out by concerned friends or wooed out by a very charming suitor.  If George Clooney came to my door, said he and Amal had realized they weren't right for each other and after reading my blogs, he knew we were soul mates, I feel pretty sure I'd start dating.  In fact, I'd probably be willing to marry him on the spot.  My blog posts would get way more interesting after that!

There are reasons other than devotion that widows wear their wedding rings for so long. One is the safety factor.  There's a safety in being thought to be married.  A single woman is vulnerable. That makes me furious, but most women know it's the truth.  A married woman gets treated a little differently.  Usually.  More importantly, strangers assume there is someone at home waiting for a woman wearing a ring.  A single woman can seem like an easy target. When I'm out in public, I always imply I'm married to strangers.  When I think of the safety issue, I'm tempted to wear my ring forever.

I suspect there's another, more controversial reason a few widows plan to never remove their ring. It may be less about the love of their deceased husband and more about the fact that they are just fine with their freedom.  They don't want a man in their life to mess things up.  I imagine if you've had a domineering husband or a high-maintenance husband, even if he was fairly lovable, it would be easier to only have to answer to yourself.  If you suspect that is the reason a widow you know continues to wear their ring, I don't advise pointing it out. Few widows would own up to it, especially if they've built up a nice facade of, "I loved my husband so much I could never in a million years move on."  A ticked off widow can go off on you like no other!  :-D

The very idea that there is so much drama and guilt and judgment associated with a widow removing their ring makes me want to take mine off right now in protest.  A ring doesn't tell my story.  Things like rings should not be given so much power.

Despite my annoyance, I am reluctant to take mine off right now.  I suppose I could plan to do it on some future special date, like New Year's or the anniversary of Rudy's death, but that would give the removal too much importance and could turn the whole process into a major grief meltdown, which I fear more than removing the ring.

Maybe one day - one random, insignificant day - I'll just take it off, put it away, say nothing about it and go on my way.  I would try not to make the removal mean anything at all.  It would probably be sensible to do it sooner rather than later.  I imagine the longer I wait, the harder it will be.

OR, I could slowly wean myself from it by wearing it some days and not others.  That wouldn't seem so scary.  Taking it off for a day or so knowing I would be putting it back on wouldn't feel so dramatic. The fact is, I'm not ready to remove my ring yet.  Why am I reluctant? What's holding me back? Honestly, I have no idea.  I can't figure it out at all.  I've become a person I don't know very well.

On a positive note, at least we no longer honor the more obvious tradition of widows dressing in black.  "Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the deceased and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity."

Interestingly, that tradition gave widows a chance to gradually transition. "Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods; such stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar descriptions. For half mourning, muted colours such as lilac, grey and lavender could be introduced."  Source    I find it interesting that they had  an in-between stage --- half-mourning!

Scarlett O'Hara certainly isn't a role model for widows who actually loved their husbands, but you have to admit she got around the rules of the day.  She even managed to dump her ring without a second thought by donating it to the cause. But then, Scarlett never loved Mr. Kennedy, did she?  For widows who had real love, it's so much more complicated.