Something Beautiful Remains

Sometimes you still experience misfortune and quirks during grief that make you either ask if you can catch a break or just simply yearn for things to be back to normal, but not the normal one might assume.   As the old saying goes, when it rains – it POURS.  It could be anything from a bad customer service experience, or ongoing mistreatment from a colleague or family member, to another loved one having a health scare.  Could it be though, that overcoming these post-loss setbacks helps you work toward seeing the daily “normal” joys in your new life without your lost loved one? 

Early on I experienced deep sadness at the prospect of life with just me and my boys with dad being gone.   Another familial relationship of mine that has always been difficult, continued to be just THAT … even in the midst of chaos. The opportunity to rise beyond our differences and just be supportive  during a difficult time has presented itself a few times, however it just has never materialized, and the loss of my husband was no exception.   I still hold a lot of resentment over the fact that my sounding board, who used to let me vent about this situation is now gone, and the source of my discomfort remains (not the person per se... but that AWFUL engergy) – still wreaking havoc on my peace of mind.   It just doesn't seem fair.

The good part of all this is that as life continues to roll on, I find myself coming home after a long day, happy to be home with my guys.  It may not be all THREE of my guys, as I would long for it to be.  But the new normal is Mama and her boys.  When I first lost my husband, that newness was even more raw than it still is now, and I just didn’t know how to be. As the months have passed – new routines have been created, new ways of doing things have been forged under the circumstances.  New pathways created… new habits… all of these things have created a new normal that I now MISS when things happen to knock it off kilter.   I realized this when my youngest was hospitalized recently with some breathing issues.    In those scary moments, I found myself longing for a “normal” day – the way it exists for me NOW.  It struck me that a “normal day” was now the circumstance I once viewed as foreign and frankly terrifying.     I have to add that the realization is not always born of something negative… it can even come from something such as returning home from a long trip – and just wanting to be home…home the way it looks NOW – after the passing of your loved one.  It is in those moments that you begin to realize and appreciate the beautiful things that still remain after the saddest of tragedies.  

Better to Have Loved and Lost . . . HOWEVER…

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. 

That may be true . . . but "having loved" comes with its difficulties too, once that love is gone.  The world is cold, but I had my warmth at home.  I am a pretty quirky gal, and have NEVER (at least not in MY view) been the girl getting chased and pursued by a gang of prospects.  That’s just never been me.  But as sure as the day is long I know that my friend/boyfriend/fiance/husband loved and adored every part of me, good bad and ugly – inside and out.  I miss being cherished that way.  As I go about life and people-watch, I see folks exchange pleasantries, and extend an air of general, cursory politeness, while reserving the best & sweetest part of themselves for their significant other and their family.  Then my mind begins to wax nostalgic about the person who saved all their best for ME.  ...The person who gave credence to me insisting that he, whom others may have not thought one way or the other about was the best thing to me since sliced bread.   ...The person who thought the same of me, and adored me.  

I realize what a blessing it was to have - what I have always called, a love that felt like home.  . . . It was a steady, constant, advocating, unconditional, consistent, abiding love that I could set my watch by.   It was a fixture… like a huge mature tree with a trunk you could lean on without worrying that it would give way.   I miss that.  I am proud to say that I had it.   The overarching superlative is that I truly did have a person who literally spent the rest of his life loving me until death did us part. As far as the idea of marriage goes - circumstances of his passing aside, it truly was a perfect ending. 

The part that breaks my heart is that it had to end. 

The Manual Application of DELIBERATE JOY . . .

Years ago, I wrote a piece called Deliberate Joy - Applied Manually.

This week, It has dawned on me more than once that - given the name of this domain, perhaps I should write something regarding the actual act of scavenging joy.  Hence a similarly titled blog entry - same gist with a little more life experience.  Unfortunately as of late, my mind defaults to sadness.  I’ve always been advised that happiness and a joy are a CHOICE - I am certainly getting a crash course in that concept since the loss of my husband.  The moments where joy actually felt fake and counter-intuitive in the midst of grief are actually what gave me the name #JoyScavenger.  I have literally felt like my circumstance was a rubble pile, under which I was digging to find any scrap, or remnant of happiness that resided there before.  

Sometimes the smallest things go a long way toward making you feel better during the grief process.  Yesterday for me it was vacuuming my carpet.   My affinity for lines in the carpet may speak to some other things in me worth examining, but in the moment, those carpet lines were the perfect ending to my day, and actually helped me sleep a little better.   The elimination of little specs of lint in the carpet, and the look of a freshly vacuumed floor made everything in my world perfect for a second… nevermind the actuality of my grief.   Do what you need to do… if you feel like stepping outside… go OUTSIDE…whether its a mid-morning walk down the street, or just randomly stepping out into the back yard, or onto the patio at 3 am, just to say you did it.  

This is all part of giving yourself grace.  There are so many ways to give yourself a little shot of joy that cost you little or no money.  One cheap way to cheer up is to travel back to childhood by purchasing a coloring book and a box of crayons.  There is so much to be said lately of the relaxing properties of coloring, that adult coloring books have become quite popular.   I personally find some of the adult coloring books a little too detailed, and the spaces to color too small.  I prefer actual children’s coloring books with familiar characters and larger spaces to color in.  So instead of peacocks and stained glass,  you’re likely to find me coloring a picture of Doc McStuffins.  Whatever it takes. . .

In the early days after my husband’s death, the presence of happiness was zero.  My family flew out.  Hearing voices in my house before waking up was healing for me.  Having my boy’s uncle around to roughhouse, and generate laughs in my oldest that only come from horseplay, wrestling, and being lifted higher than I could ever lift him was healing for me.  As my budget allowed, I replaced a piece of furniture in my bedroom, and this new piece makes me smile every time I look at it.  Joy is a decision . . .sometimes that decision comes easier, and may even be involuntary.  In times of grief, that joy application may feel fake, generic and contrived.  Go with it.   Do yourself a favor and switch your thoughts even for a minute.  It is likely that the love you lost would want to see you happy even if for a second.  Comment below - it could help someone reading this.  How do you inject joy into your life during hard times?

*Bonus Post* Gratitude with an Attitude . . .does that sound like a PLATITUDE?

Gratitude with an attitude. . . that's when you say "I want to be happy damn it!"  That's when you begin trying to figure out how you are going to pull yourself out of a funk if you've decided you do not want to reside there.   

It's when you pause being devastated about the loss of your spouse and take a second to smile and remember the good times.  It's those moments when you say, I am going to get out of the house today, and not stay holed up in my bedroom. 

... It's when you look at your children and say, we need to be creating good memories still.  Cause I'll tell you what - even aside from experiencing loss of a loved one, waxing poetic about awesome childhood memories has pulled me out of many a mood rut.  I wouldn't have ANY of that on reserve if my mama had not DECIDED to take me to the zoo or the science center, or walk down to the park, or take me to a movie.  That stuff is important! 

My son was gifted some tickets to an LA Clippers game... Great seats - 7 rows back from the court-side.  I received these tickets very soon after my husband passed.  My days continue to be up and down... dark and light.  During one of those dark days I contemplated just selling those tickets.  During one of the light days I said No!  We deserve!!   ...and hell, I'D never been to an NBA game.  January 13th, I packed my boys up and we drove down to Staples Center and had our butts IN THOSE SEATS.  One of the BEST decisions I've made in 2018. 

A long time ago, I wrote a piece about joy having to be manually applied at times.  In this life, I swear, sometimes you have to fight for those good moments like you're fighting a bully in the street!  Sometimes life seems intent on taking your peace.  That is when I have to say "nah... not today".   Losing a baby and losing my husband has taught me that painful things will happen in life REGARDLESS of the good choices we think we are making, and despite how tightly we have our so called ducks in a row.  There are things that happen that are simply outside our locus of control.  However, there are things we CAN control, and there are memories we can create just by getting up and DOING, BEING, SEEING... LIVING.  A manual injection of something joyous in your life when life has tossed an unfortunate occurrence your way is how you are going to continue to counteract the darkness and continue to create good memories that can never be taken away. 

Every night I have a couple bullet points of things in my mind that I am thankful for.   Losing a spouse can sometimes make you more aware and weary about your own mortality.  Instead of dwelling on dreading another loss or my own passing, I change that thought to being thankful in the present that the people I love who are still alive are still here.   I remain thankful for the PRESENT - no matter the current or looming circumstances may be.  If I get bogged down in darkness, I pull out my flashlight until daylight comes again.    

I'm no expert, however my approach to loss has been to sit in the grief when I need to... feel my feelings - because they need to be acknowledged and validated.  I am sad,  I am angry, I am enraged, I am nervous, I am scared... sometimes I feel a tad clueless.  However, believe it or not, I still feel happy, I still recognize funny and love a good laugh.  I still love visits from friends when I do not want to be alone, I still like playing video games with my big boy, and peekaboo with my baby.   I take FULL advantage of these opportunities when they arise, and CREATE them when I feel a void because DAMN IT!  I DESERVE! The power of CHOICE, and - dare I say it, a [healthy] sense of entitlement.  That is gratitude with an attitude... my apologies if it sounds like a platitude.   Y'all ... lets go GET it.    

Dark Stormy Nights ... and Days

There is a podcast I discovered recently called Widow Cast, hosted by one JoAnn Filomena, a life coach. She does an episode where she talks about "Widow Moments"... those times where it REALLY hits you that your spouse is truly gone.  For me, there have been a couple times where it hit me like a ton of BRICKS - one time being where I was asked to populate an emergency contact field on a form I was filling out.  I wrote the first letter of my husbands name, and then had to cross it out.  

There are moments right up until now that I feel like our house knows Andre is gone - every time something breaks I think - "oh you're leaving me too?"  Shortly after he died - thankfully while I had family in town, there were these violent windstorms in my area. It was windy enough that the furniture on our upstairs deck was able to slide around and make a grinding sound against the ground as if someone was actually up stairs rearranging things.   The wind whipped - and the draft actually blew small traces of dust through our closed windows  (put that on the checklist to get checked out).  The wind was so strong that 4 of the 5 blades on our outdoor ceiling fan actually broke COMPLETELY off.  The first night of the wind storm I actually went up stairs to push the furniture against the walls of the patio so it would not be blown around.  I looked up to the sky and I could see stars clearly, and I could also see clouds moving rapidly with the wind.  It all seemed surreal.  The wind storm seemed to represent the actual storm going on inside my mind and in my life.  The broken fan also seemed very symbolic.   During weather like that, I was so used to remarking about it to my husband, and then cuddling with him during those cold nights.  Now that reality was no more.   I think that's the epitome of a "widow moment".

I've experienced the downside of having a husband who was handy around the house, and an electronics geek.  I talked about the dark stormy nights, but I spend many DAYS dreading the days when the computers need updating, and my son asks for the newer game console for Christmas.  Don't get me wrong - I am not the COMPLETE damsel in distress... I have my ways of figuring things out or getting the professional help I need.  However, these are moments when I just MISS having my husband around.  It's heartbreaking. I am realizing that I may have been a tad spoiled.  Spoiled in the ways of being able to defer certain things to him.  He was also my best friend, and protector.  I was spoiled in that I always had an advocate in my corner, looking out for me.  The upside is that I was able to observe him, and he taught me a lot.  Right now I am learning that in certain moments I undercut myself, and I am stronger and more clever than I realize.  I am having to tap into reserves I didn't know I had in order to sustain and survive. 

Feel free to comment.  Have you had widow moments that hit you really suddenly, and really hard?

*Bonus Post* We are ALL a hot mess!!!!

When I see folks lamenting over the way things "should" be or "could" be or "would be if..." I understand, but I also remind them - and myself when I fall down the rabbit hole, that comparison is the thief of joy.  We can peer across the fence all we want, the only point of reference we REALLY genuinely have is our own.   Not to invalidate the wisdom and experience-based advice we receive from others.   But when you start taking other people's experiences, and judging by the moments captured in posts and photos on social media, that's where we can get into trouble. 

If you look at someone and think they are handling grief better than you are or than you could, please know that many times people are in the same boat, and many times in a more rickety boat than you!  Everyone is just trying to put their best foot forward.  I will use myself as an example since all I hear lately is how amazing and strong I am . . .often times I feel the exact opposite. 

If you see me on the go in the morning all dressed up dropping my son off at school - looking like a working woman on the go... please know that often times, one, some, or all of the following have happened. 

  • I am 25 minutes late for work. 
  • The before-school program I pay a pretty penny for has already dismissed.  (add cancelling the service to my list of a million things I must do). 
  • The sandwich I planned on making for Marcus' lunch now has cheese ONLY because he ate the last of the lunch meat, and I didn't find out till this morning.  
  • His lunch is in a Ziplock bag because for the second time he has misplaced the nice lunchbox I purchased for him. 
  • Hoping yesterday's deodorant application lasts through today, because I did NOT have time shower - only time to wash my face and hit the hot spots  LOL  (TMI?  too bad). 
  • I cried on the way to work - or in the bathroom once I got there while remembering how my husband and I used to tag team this thing, and how much I miss the ease and slack his help provided when I fell short or was unable to make it some place on time.  It hits me hard that I did not choose single parent hood (not that anyone ever CHOOSES it, but it was not a DECISION I had to make).  Anger eclipses the sadness when I start to feel that I have been handed a bum deal by life.  Rage enters when I start asking why.... then more sadness when I realize, I may NEVER know why .... I continue to have an abiding faith that acts as a cushion when I hit the shore after riding a grief wave, but it doesn't kill these feelings that come. 

...Anyhow, that's just ONE example of not judging the book by its cover.   Life is whooping my ASS right now, but I choose to find some good in it.  MLK day was this week, and a certain refrain from him resonated with me: unearned suffering is redemptive.  I hang on to that.  If nothing else, it helps me get out of bed every day, just to see if that pay out will occur.  But don't look at me, and think I'm special (not to assume you did, but if you do)... I am a mess right now... just trying to make it day by day.  But something in me tells me that there is a purpose for this mess. I don't know what it is... it makes me mad that loosing someone I treasured would even equal some sort of redemption story for me, because I want my man back... I wish my second son stuck around.   But since they cannot come back in earthly form, I have to believe I am going through the pain of surviving their loss for some reason beyond my comprehension right now.  Please know I stand with you in the mess.  Let's see what awaits.   Answer below if you feel like it... have you ever compared your experience with grief to others? 

... It's still so FRESH.

All I know is that I wish I could just do a Google search and find someone going through the same thing as me... a 37 year old widow with two little boys - one 7 years old and one who is a 7 month old preemie with a feeding tube.  ...2 months out from losing her dear husband suddenly and unnaturally after he stopped breathing during a wisdom tooth extraction.   

I know... every grief scenario is unique, and I will never find one exactly like mine involving a person exactly like me.   However, there ARE common threads.  If I couldn't generate the link I needed, then I decided to CREATE the link people may be seeking.  Enter, JOY SCAVENGER. 

I can't speak for all, but I know that when tragedy struck my life (loosing both a child AND a spouse), I appeared to have but TWO choices:  Lay there and pretty much die myself, or keep it movin'.  Often times, the option I chose - to keep it movin', came with the task of finding the MOTIVATION... searching for little pocketfulls of peace... giving my mind a well deserved break.   It involved sometimes even forcing happiness... cause sometimes we can form a cocoon inside of our grief, and not even allow ourselves a little happiness when it appears.   All in all, I literally had to dig through this rubble of despair, and be a scavenger of joy - no matter how big or small...

... and its not about filling holes with unhealthy habits... it's not about putting a Band-Aid on grief and that being THAT.  It's certainly not about a quick fix for grief.  It is however, about riding these grief waves as best we can, and reincorporating those joyful moments in life we deserve.  It's about self-care, feeling our feelings, and loving ourselves through the pain and the anxiety.   I invite you to take this real-time journey with me - as I am not AT ALL far-removed from my own losses.  But I want to build a community around finding joy in life again.  Feel free to tell me your stories of loss below.