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.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One Year Ago

I sometimes think about what was happening a year ago from whatever day it is.  For the next few months, that's probably not wise.  But today, I gave in to temptation and looked back on last year's calendar.

Nov 21, 2014 was Rudy's first chemo.  It was at Piedmont, before we transferred to CTCA.  We thought it would be a treatment that might extend Rudy's life.  It turned out to be the treatment that would make his life a living hell.  He would spend the next week sick as a dog, unable to keep anything down and weak beyond belief.  He would go to Piedmont over and over during the next week to get fluids.  No doctor would see him.  The nurses did the best they could.  He would be over-medicated to the point that he thought he was installing glass, even though he was sitting in a chair getting fluids.

At this same time, our dog Teddy was losing his hair and scratching like mad.  They first thought he might have mange.  He did not.  Life was a rollercoaster of cancer doctors and vets and worry and misery, with a dash of hope that this was all temporary and things would improve.

If I could go back in time, even if it meant seeing Rudy once more, I would not go back to November 21, 2014.  Thank God, Rudy isn't going through that hell anymore.

Back to the present - I find I am not dreading Thanksgiving (or Christmas) quite as much as I was a month or so ago.  I've been working on focusing on the positives and playing around with how I think of the day.

My dread of these first holidays without Rudy is all in my head, as is all dread.  I'm pretty good at head games.  I can master this.  I will not be the widow crying at Thanksgiving dinner over what she's lost.  I will be the widow who is grateful for what she had (and for so many years of having it) and thankful for all the loved ones she still has.  I will have a genuine smile on my face. I will enjoy all the people I'm with.  Seriously.  I will master this.

PS - To all my family reading this - Please stay positive and happy and funny.  If anyone starts talking sad things or giving me sorrowful looks, my head game positive attitude may completely dissolve. I'm looking forward to lots of hugs, but please let them be happy hugs rather than sorrowful ones. Please, let's find the joy in the day and fully enjoy those still with us.  We are not promised tomorrow with any of the people still here.  Make the most of it!  Let's have some laughs and make some memories!  I sure hope I can do it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Six Months - My Reflections

Rudy has been gone six months.  I've written this post over and over and deleted it over and over.  I don't want to keep writing the really sad stuff. It makes people worry about me and they don't need to.

I'm continuing to change.  I have no idea how I'll turn out, but I know I'll never be the same.  Many things I used to like no longer have my interest.  I am no longer involved in selling antiques.  I don't have a booth.  I don't promote any stores. That chapter is over.  New interests are filling up my time.  I've become obsessed with hiking.  My friend, Susan, is a willing partner in this activity, but we hope others will join us.  A few friends have expressed interest.  Susan and I need to figure out how to coordinate it.

I love this quote, but the meaning  of wild for me is different from what it might have been in the past.  I had some wild days in my youth.  My daddy can attest to that and he's no doubt mighty glad I'm no longer that kind of wild.

These days wild is more about not being tamed by expectations.  I am refusing to do things that don't feel right, even if it goes against the norm.  It affects me in ways that are shallow - like letting my hair go absolutely crazy - and ways that are deep - like grieving in solitude because it feels more sacred. I'm sure some people think I'm having far too much fun than is respectable for a widow of six months.  Those people are ignorant.  I hope they stay blissfully ignorant as long as possible.  One day, they'll get it.  Meanwhile, it's not my problem and I don't worry about it... because I've gone wild.

Losses keep coming.  Three people have died since Rudy and truthfully, those losses left me reeling in very different ways.  Rudy's cousin, Vicki, is the most recent.  She died this past week.  Rudy was close to her, especially when they were young.  We haven't seen as much of her these last years.  She moved to Alabama.  When we did see her, the time gone by didn't seem to matter.  My memories of Vicki all include her laughing and joking and lighting up the room.  When I got the news of her passing, I felt sure Rudy had been one of the people there to greet her.  Rudy and Jimmy are no doubt teaching her how to make funny things happen here on earth so those of us still here will always be reminded that they are looking out for us.  Jimmy, Rudy, and Vicki all have a wicked sense of fun and are very creative when it comes to pranks, so I imagine those of us they plan to "communicate" with, will be very entertained.  I can feel them laughing about it right now, which oddly makes me cry.

The losses have made me a bit obsessed with thinking about how important it is to appreciate our friends and family while they are here.  I have a bit more fear about it than I should.  I keep wondering when I see someone if I will see them again or if some crazy thing will happen and they will die. I even wonder if I will be the one to go and if my last visits with people will have been good.  I need to stop dwelling on death, but I hope when I do, I will remember to be fully in the moment while I am with my friends and family.

I'm also finding myself less judgemental about people's crazy sides.  I don't have to agree with what anyone is doing with their life.  It's their path, not mine.  The crazy parts are what makes our lives most interesting.  In fact, maybe it's better to love  and enjoy the crazy parts - they always make good stories.  If the story is a cautionary tale, then I figure they are learning a life lesson and just love them all the while.  Lord knows, when it comes to crazy life lessons, I've learned some doozies myself and I was loved through those.

I am trying to spend more time with people I care about.  I don't turn down many opportunities to get together with loved ones.  You can take one look at my house and know that I haven't been spending quite enough time here.   Life is short and what matters most is connecting with people we care about.

As Forest Gump would say, "That's all I have to say about that."

Here are a few random photos that bring back happier days.  These were taken when people were truly in the moment and feeling joy.  These little moments were all so much more important than we realized at the time.  I'm so thankful I live in the age of easy photography.

This was taken out at the barn.  I'm up in the loft.
I think I was supposed to be handing something to Rudy.

Daniel and Rudy - so serious

Carly and Rudy

Rudy and Kelly

Rudy and Nancy

Rudy with Annie and Sadie soon after they came to us.

Rudy with Lucy - the once-in-a-lifetime dog