Monday, April 29, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

Robert Burns penned the lines, The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]", and if there's one thing I've learned in my life is that he was right.

A little over a week ago (on Sunday, April 21), I headed out bright and early to spend a week at a workshop in North Carolina. I took my laptop and had great plans to post an entry at least every other night. I knew that internet access was available only in the main building, and I had visions of walking down to that building every evening to relax in the library, write a bit, and work on my online class.

Happily, several things interfered with that plan. First, when I arrived, I discovered that although walking trails link all of the buildings, the "cottage" I was staying in was a good 5-minute walk through the woods on a softly-lit path from the building with internet access. No problem; I was looking forward to the exercise.

Additionally, I found that dinner, served at 6:15 every evening, included wonderful food and fascinating conversation a different group of extremely interesting, fun people. By the time I ate dinner and walked back to my room, all I wanted to do was put on my jammies, read, journal, and visit with my fantastic roommate.

She (my roommate) was another reason my plans didn't come to fruition. My roommate was a perfect fit for me. We both wanted to read and do some writing each evening, but we also spent time chatting, and I enjoyed visiting with my very interesting, intelligent, and funny new friend. Having a roommate as an adult can be pretty darned awkward, but we immediately and easily figured out a morning bathroom schedule that fit both of us perfectly, neither of us minded if the other stayed up later and kept the lamp on the table between the two beds lit, and both of us enjoyed a glass of wine each evening. Perfect match!

Each evening, then, I enjoyed a fantastic meal (made even better by the fact that it was prepared by other people and all the clean-up I had to do was return my plate to the kitchen) and wonderful conversation, enjoyed a leisurely stroll along a nicely-lit path in the beautiful North Carolina countryside, and then returned to a room to enjoy a glass of wine,, pleasant conversation, and a good book. And instead of sticking to my scheduled plan, as I typically do at home, I simply relaxed and let each evening unfold like the gift it was.

If you have not had any evenings free of rushing and stressing and chores and obligations recently, I hope you will put aside one evening to do nothing but relax and nurture your soul. Then do that again from time to tome. Give yourself that gift.

What would be a stress-free, soul-nurturing evening for you? What would it take for that to be a reality?

 

 

 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Until Death do You Part

"Are you seeing anyone?" Our telephone conversation about safety-deposit boxes completed, my banker/casual friend from back home posed a question I've been asked more than a few times in the past 3 1/2 years.

"No, I thought about it, but I don't think it's for me. I just don't think I could sit with someone or a group of someones rehashing everything over and over. I journal, though, and writing has always been my version of therapy," I responded.

"Therapy? No, I meant are you seeing anyone. As in dating."

I stammered and stuttered, shocked at the question. At the very idea. Dating? Me? Why? I somehow managed to simply say "no, no dating", and we moved on to talk about our kids before hanging up.

That phone call took place yesterday, but it's been playing through my head ever since. The shock was quickly replaced by indignation. How could she think I would be dating again . . . or ever? I love my husband and can't imagine going on a date with anyone else. While eating lunch with a colleague/mentor today, I mentioned that I was feeling a big cranky and related the conversation and that I felt a bit insulted by the question. I tried to explain why. I love my husband. I have no desire to ever date again. And besides, I'm married. Well, widowed, but you know what I mean. 

My colleague looked me straight in the eye and gently said, "But you aren't married any more. You were married 'until death do you part'." Silly as it sounds, in the 3+ years since my husband died, that had never occurred to me. I've never thought of myself as "unmarried" or "single". I'm "widowed", aka "married, but my husband has passed away". In fact, I was filling out a form recently and got to the section about marital status. I looked, then double-checked, but there was no box with "widow" typed next to it. I simply made my own box, put a check in it, and wrote "widow" next to it in very neat, precise letters.

Thoughts of the conversation with my banker/casual friend have been replaced with thoughts about my marital status. I need to ponder this before I'm ready to share, but in the meantime, I'd like to pose a few questions I've been contemplating this evening.

1. Should I move my wedding ring to my right hand? What will my kids say? Will they even notice?

2. Should I continue using "Mrs."? I don't care for Ms (I'm not even sure it's used anymore anyway), but Miss doesn't seem right, either.

3. What is the correct term to use when referring to my husband? If I'm no longer married, I no longer have a husband. If I use his first name, coworkers and friends that were not a part of my life before his death have no idea who I'm talking about.

There's no right or wrong answer, of course; each of us who have walked this path has to come to the answer that works for them. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on these, or any similar issues you've dealt with. If you prefer not to share publicly (via a "comment"), feel free to share your thoughts in an email to me at aliferedesigned@yahoo.com.

 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Images of Violence and of Valor

I had planned to write about something else tonight, but talking about my loss and my life in light of today's horrific events at the Boston Marathon would be incredibly self-centered. Instead, I simply want to say what so many others have been saying throughout the afternoon and evening -- my prayers and thoughts are with those people who were injured and their families, the families and friends of those who were killed in these terroristic acts, the spectators and participants who were present, and the first responders and medical teams who treated the wounded. 

I've avoided television news today, knowing that I couldn't stomach the unending broadcast of the pictures, the speculation, and the time-filling sound bites that run in a continual loop at times like this. Instead, I have chosen to stay informed through online media. As I looked at the pictures and read the first-hand accounts, several thoughts stayed with me.

First and most importantly, I was sickened by the images of the wounded. Yet I think it's important for these pictures to be shared. While I'm very sensitive to the fact that the victims are being captured on film at a time they are most vulnerable, I think it's also important that Americans see the horror that was inflicted on our countrymen. We should be shocked, we should be outraged, and we should do all we can to make sure this never happens again.

While the pictures of the wounded sickened me, it was the pictures in which others were helping those who were injured that moved me to tears. The first responders -- some rushing to some unknown-to-the-reader need, some stoically dealing with the injured or with terrified bystanders -- were obviously performing with great valor. A large majority of the photos I saw showed "civilians" helping the wounded or the frightened. Pictures of young men and women carrying the injured to safety, a man tying his t-shirt around an injured runner's leg to staunch the flow of blood, a runner comforting a sobbing child -- these pictures brought tears to my eyes when I saw them and still do now.

The pictures of people carrying American flags filled me with pride and sorrow and even, i admit, some fear.

Once again, Americans are dealing with an act of terrorism on our soil. This terrorism will change us, as it should. But I hope that however we feel tonight as we grapple with the events of the day, that this horrific event causes each of us to be even more mindful of the preciousness of life, of the importance of treating others with love while at the same time exacting justice for those who are wronged or victimized, and of how, no matter what our  political, religious, or idealogical differences, we must stand together.

God bless America

 

 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Inching Forward

I shared in my last post how I coped in the days after my husband's cancer diagnosis and passing. As I explained, a moment eventually came that caused me to turn my focus from the past and the immediate moment to the future. A friend who knows of my love for the beach had sent me a copy of Sand in My Bra, and as I sat on my front-porch glider and read through each of the amusing essays, I began to consider doing some traveling myself.

I immediately realized this was the first time in over two years that I had thought to the future and not felt an almost-suffocating sense of despair. Close on the heels of that thought was a sharp pang of guilt. How could I begin making plans, plans that might include fun, when my husband's life had been cut short? But the spark  was there -- a tiny spark, but that's all it took. By fits and starts, I began to start designing a new life.

Because I'm a journaler and know I can't embark on a new project until I have all my ducks in a row, I immediately made a trip to Barnes and Noble and bought a cute ecojot notebook. In the past 15 months, I've almost filled that notebook with charts and lists and snippets of information gleaned from various sources. During the first 12 or so months, I merely collected information, but in the past 3 months, I've begun to pull things together and take a few tentative steps forward.

Perhaps you aren't there yet, but the time will come when you realize you need to move forward, that you need to begin making plans for your life from this point forward. So how do you begin?

1. Consider how you do your best thinking, planning, and creating. What strategies have you used successfully in the past? What's your "planning personality"?

2. Think about the specific tools you need. If you are a journaler, what type of journaling do you prefer? Do you sketch, write, a combination of the two? Do you journal electronically, or do you prefer hard-copy? If you chose the latter, are you partial to a particular type or even a specific brand of journal? A dear friend shared with me that she would be lost if Moleskine ever stops selling their large, hardback, blank-paged journals! Perhaps instead of journaling, you prefer to cut out pictures and articles from magazines in a scrapbook or notebook. If you haven't already, check out Pinterest, a wonderful electronic bulletin board.

3. Consider the "aids" that have been helpful in the past. If books inspire you, do you prefer library books, or would you rather have your own copies of books so you can annotate as you read? What about music? Do you have favorite artists or songs, or is there a radio station that plays music that brings you peace and gets your creative juices flowing? Or is a computer and the World Wide Web all you need?

4. Gather what you need. Buy the teal leather-bound journal you fell in love with at the bookstore or grab one of the composition books you have tucked away in your desk, purchase those Derwent sketch pencils, sign up for Pinterest, browse your local library, bookstore, or amazon.com for appropriate books -- in other words, collect your supplies.

5. Begin. Gather information, journal, sketch, dream, pin, create a budget . . . in short, start creating the framework, the blueprint for your new life.

I was originally going to title this post "Moving Forward" but immediately after I typed the words, I knew it didn't fit. It's taken me 15 months to work through the process I just outlined. That might seem ridiculously slow; on the other hand, you may not be able to fathom completing even the first step. That's okay. You have to work through this process in your own way, at your own pace.

If you haven't yet been able to think about the future, please trust me when I tell you that someday you will. If you've already begun making plans or are already living your redesigned life, I'd love to hear how the process has evolved for you. It's my hope -- and my belief -- that we can all benefit from the experiences of others who are traveling this path with us. So please, share your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Getting By

From the moment of my husband’s cancer diagnosis in July 2009 until a few weeks after his funeral six weeks later, events unfolded quickly. The disease was in control, and doctors were doing what they could to temporarily corral it. My role was to take care of my husband, do what I was told, answer any questions I was asked, and put one foot in front of the other as needed. In the days and weeks after Steve’s death, the doctors were replaced by life and health insurance representatives, his employer’s human resources personnel, and other assorted paper-pushers. I worked through insurance documents, financial and legal paperwork, and even headstone worksheets on autopilot. I didn’t think ahead; I couldn’t. In short, I operated almost totally in “reactive mode”.

A few weeks after the funeral, though, I switched from almost mechanically dealing with things as they arose to operating very little at all outside of work. For the next seven or eight weeks, I made only the most basic decisions and only when I had no other choice. Every few days I retrieved the mail from our mailbox and set aside anything that looked like a bill; unable to deal with anything else — unable even to cull the junk mail from the stack — I stuffed everything else into the bottom drawer of my desk (and letter the 2nd-from-the-bottom drawer). Once a week I forced myself to pay any bills that needed to be paid, and then I was done with decisions for six days.

Eventually, though, I dug all the mail out of the drawer and worked my way through all of it, listed our home and acreage, and began hunting for a full-time job. Over the next eighteen or so months, I functioned rather normally; for the most part, though, I was still only going through the motions. I had no interest in the future or in how I was going to live the rest of my life. What motivated me to get up, go to work, eat, and interact with others was my children. Nothing else really mattered.

It was not until more than two years after my husband’s death that I began to think ahead to the next year and even beyond. I didn’t feel any sense of anticipation yet, but I began to feel a stirring of interest in my life and what it could be. That was enough. I grabbed hold of that small sense of what I can’t even categorize as hope, and I ran with it. And I’m still running.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve suffered a devastating loss, one that completely changed the landscape of your life. I know that for me, my faith and the love of my children and my love for them kept me “hanging in there”. What  has helped you cope when things seemed the bleakest? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments section. 

 

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise."

Although these words were spoken (by Horace) over 2000 years ago, they are appropriate for me today. First, I am beginning. In large part because of the encouragement of some key people in my life and with the help of a new blog-world friend, I have the self-confidence, the emotional energy, and the electronic tools I need to begin this venture.

I also intend to be bold. I'm prepared to be candid, to share my mistakes, my fears, and my hopes and dreams. By sharing, I hope to connect with others who have found themselves living a life they never expected to live, a life that ranges anywhere from slightly bewildering to absolutely terrifying. And through that connection, I believe we can all benefit.

Coupled with that boldness, I hope to be wise. My grandmother always said that it's from the school of hard knocks that a person gets their best education. If she was right -- and Grandma L. almost always was, as I recall -- I've probably learned more the difficulties I've encountered in the past few years than in all my previous years on earth combined!

So I'm beginning, I'm going to be bold, and I hope to be wise. But why am I here? Why am I sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog instead of catching up on this season's American Idol? To answer  that, I need to go back almost four years. Don't worry, this will be a fairly fast recap, but it's one I believe needs to be provided.

One late-May morning in '09, my husband casually mentioned before leaving for work that he was having  his yearly free, employer-provided physical that day. I barely registered the fact; after all, he was 47 years old and healthy as the proverbial horse. A few weeks later, he called me from work and asked for the name of our new doctor (our previous doctor had retired just a few months prior). He explained that his blood work had come back "a little off" -- his bilirubin was too high -- and he needed to schedule an appointment to have the test redone.

The company nurse told him the test result could be a fluke or the result of any number of minor things, so I wasn't really concerned. I called our son just in case; he had just graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in biology and was planning to enter medical school in the fall, so I figured he could explain to his science-impaired mom what might be the problem. My son reaffirmed what the nurse said so, once again, I wasn't really concerned. My husband didn't seem worried, either;  he made an appointment with Dr. B for a few weeks later, and nothing else was mentioned about it.

One doctor's appointment, a liver scan, and a second doctor's appointment later, and we were faced with a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to my husband's liver and lymphs. In fact, the scan showed a liver that was so filled with cancer that only two spots, both about the size of a pin-point and with almost no depth at all, were not diseased.

Six weeks and one day later, just 5 weeks after eating the home-made apple pie he had requested in lieu of a 48th-birthday cake, my husband, the father of our two children, passed away.

In the 3 1/2 years since September 2, 2009, my life has changed in ways I never imagined possible. As a result, I am living a life I didn't want and am facing a future far different from the one I envisioned just 44 months ago. Against my will, I am faced with a somewhat-clean slate, ready to be filled with a new life.

Hopefully, you're reading my words without a single "that's me" running through your head; hopefully, you have never faced a loss that has turned your world upside-down. Perhaps, though, you have faced the death of a loved one -- a spouse or, heaven forbid, a child -- or  maybe your loss came in the form of a divorce or an empty nest. Maybe you, like so many others in recent years, have lost a job and a promising career, or maybe you realize that you've lost sight of your dreams. You look around and don't recognize the life you're living -- it certainly isn't the one you signed up for!

Whatever your situation may be, I hope that you'll join me here, share your own thoughts and nuggets of wisdom, laugh and maybe even shed a tear or two with me as I live my redesigned life.