Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Oh, the Places I've Been! (apologies to Dr. Seuss)

When my son graduated from kindegarten, my husband and I gave him a copy of Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go! with a note from us written on the inside front cover. We moved a year later, and my daughter attended kindegarten at a school didn't have kindegarten graduation, so she received her copy when she graduated from high school. For their graduations almost two weeks ago, I added a 3rd (in the case of my son's) and 2nd (in my daughter's) note on the inside of the cover. As I considered what to write, I gave quite a bit of thought to the places both of them have already been and to all the possibilities that await them.

Similarly, as I wrote in my journal last night, I couldn't help but think about where I've been the past 10 days; some of those "places" were a bit challenging, while others were absolutely wonderful.

Of course, missing my daughter's graduation was difficult,  and my son's graduation was bittersweet. I celebrated another birthday and marked another Memorial Day; special occasions and holidays are strong reminders that one very important person is missing. I also said good-bye to my son and watched him drive away to his new home in Fort Worth. Silly perhaps, but his being a 10 1/2-hour drive away -- too far for an occasional weekend together (especially with his residency schedule) -- for the first time in his life has hit me a bit. On top of that, my daughter is moving out this weekend; it hasn't escaped me that I will be, for all intents and purposes, completely alone when I'm at home, and that will be a huge change for me.

The past 10 days brought physical challenges as well. Between the Monday and Thursday after graduations, I helped load all of my son's possessions into a u-haul, drove 9 hours to Forth Worth, helped unload the uhaul (carrying every piece of furniture and almost all of the boxes up a flight of stairs to his new apartment) and unpack & arrange things, and in one day drove 9 hours back to Kansas City and then on to the St. Louis area where I live.  On the drive home, I did some quick math and determined that in 8 days I was in a car at least 30 hours! I love road trips, but I think I'm ready to stay home for awhile.

These same 10 days were also, in many ways, wonderful. I was  humbled by my daughter's maturity and grace about my missing her graduation, and I was so very touched as family and friends loved and supported her with their presence. I watched  with unspeakable joy as my son was presented as a doctor for the first time and draped with the hood that signifies the completion of 21 years of hard work and dedication. It was absolutely wonderful to have 10 days with my son and, except for 4 days, my daughter -- time to chat and laugh and simply be together as a family. We haven't had that much time together in 4 years! This past Saturday, my son and daughter took me out for a "birthday lunch". I was completely shocked to find my sister and brother-in-law, nephews and their wives and children, and some dear friends there as well. Somehow, my son and daughter planned and executed a surprise birthday party for me without my suspecting anything at all!

Both my son and daughter left yesterday (my son to return to Fort Worth, my daughter to spend a few days with my father- and mother-in-law). Originally, I had planned a full schedule, hoping to stay busy and have no time to brood, but at the last minute I decided to take a few days off before returning to my normal routine and to simply relax and rejuvenate. I did just that. I spent yesterday in my pajamas, reading a few cozy mysteries and eating junk food, and stopping to putter a bit as the mood struck me. When I felt a bit blue, I journalled about how I was feeling or watched a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory". Last night I watched an NBA playoff game, and I fell asleep on the couch as the announcers were giving their post-game recap. I was a bit more productive today; I got my teeth cleaned, ran a few errands, and caught up on some paperwork.

I'm glad I was able to help my son move and that I'll be able to help my daughter do the same thing this Friday and Saturday. I'm glad, too, that instead of using busyness to ignore my feelings, I took a few days to slow down and to acknowledge and then work through them.

Everyone gets the blues now and then; those of us who have lost a spouse (or child) surely get them more often. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with those less-pleasant emotions, and I firmly believe that what is "healthy" for one person may not be so for another. What helps you handle the more trying times? Is it surrounding yourself with friends or loved ones, or do you need alone when you're feeling down? What activities help you get over the rough patches? I'd love to hear from you; if you don't want to share publicly through a comment here, please feel free to email me at



Thursday, May 16, 2013


I’m currently sitting in my car dealer/mechanic’s waiting room, waiting (what else?) on a mechanic to finish changing my car’s oil and to replace worn wiper blades and a burned-out tail light. The total cost hovers around $115, which isn’t bad considering the cost of labor and synthetic fuel. I can’t help but think, though, of how this same job cost probably half that amount when my husband did all of those things.

Routine car maintenance wasn’t the only mechanical or practical thing my husband did during our almost-25 year marriage. He built the shell of our last home, put on the siding, and did all of the finish work -- constructed the interior walls, installed doors (even 2 pocket doors), laid the hardwood flooring, ran the electrical work, installed the cooling systems, installed all of the plumbing, put in windows, and made and installed all of the trim work. He also took care of all car repairs, fixed broken stuff of every kind and performed all kinds of household repairs, hung the Christmas lights, put in a garden, built a chicken house, and many, many other tasks that needed to be done. As a result, the only times we used “hired help” were when we had the hardwood floors in our first house refinished, when we installed the heating system for our new home, and when the time came to install, balance, and rotate tires.

I think I could figure out how to do some of the things my husband did, but many of these tasks require either much more knowledge than I could glean from the internet or more physical strength than I possess. As a result, since my husband died I’ve had to outsource almost all car and home maintenance and repair. Except for 2 or 3 jobs over the past 3 1/2 years, outsourcing has meant finding and hiring someone.

Of course, people have offered to help, to do these things for me. But soon after my husband died, the lawn mower broke down, and I was determined not to become that person we’ve all heard about or read about in books -- the neighborhood widow who always “borrows” other women’s husbands. When my retired father-in-law heard about my lawn mower problem, he immediately said he’d take care of it. Because he is very mechanical and loves to fix things, because he had lots of time on his hands and sometimes got underfoot of my mother-in-law, but primarily because I knew it would make him feel better (relative term, of course) to take care of this for his son, I gladly let him fix the mower.

Ten months after my husband’s death I moved to a city a few hours from our home (to take a new, full-time job). I bought a small house in a very friendly, close-knit planned community and settled in. I got to know my neighbors, particularly the family across the street. The husband, a fireman, is very mechanical and skilled at all sorts of things. He has offered to hang my Christmas lights, but so far I haven’t taken him up on it, choosing to decorate only the inside of the house. He’s offered to clean out the dryer vents, change the batteries in the smoke alarms (I have 9’ high ceilings), and do various odd jobs, but I hesitate to take him up on his offers. He works long hours, and when he’s home, I’m sure he has his own “honey-do” list to take care of. He is also an active & involved father of 2 boys, one of whom has special-needs, and other activities he’s involve in. In short, I continue to be determined not to be the proverbial husband-borrowing widow.

Which brings me to the car dealership/shop. It’s also brought me to a painter -- no way was I going to attempt to paint the open stairway in my living room with its 18’+ walls. But it’s also brought me to searching YouTube for a tutorial on fixing a toilet that won’t stop running; I was pretty darned proud of myself after I finished and even shared my success on facebook! It has also brought scared-of-heights me to teetering atop a ladder and removing the entire smoke detector cover, only to discover after I had changed the battery and strained and struggled to get the cover back on that if pushed, the small square on the cover pops open for battery changes. The first change took me 10 minutes; the next 3 took less than that altogether. It’s also brought me to using liquid graphite to lubricate the stuck lock on the back door and to using WD-40 to fix a squeaky hinge.

The local community ed program offers both a “powder puff” car repair class and a general home maintenance course every fall, and I’m seriously thinking of signing up. Doing at least some of my own repairs would save money and give me a sense of accomplishment, I know. Who knows? I might learn enough to take the big step I’ve been considering for the past 2 years -- buying a small, inexpensive, fixer-upper home and doing much of the renovation work myself.


What about you? If your husband took care of car repairs and/or repairs around the house, how have you chosen to handle these issues since his passing? Have you learned (or maybe you already knew) how to fix at least some things yourself? I’d love to hear your home or car-repair stories, and I’m hoping there’s at least one funny one out there!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Red-Letter Days

I am very blessed to be the mother of two Spring 2013 graduates; my son is graduating from medical school and my daughter from college. That's the good news. The not-so-good news? They graduate on the same day. At the same time. In cities almost 5 hours apart.

When we -- my son, daughter, and I -- first learned of the scheduling conflict, my daughter immediately said that I should go to her brother's graduation because this is his "last graduation" and she is continuing on to grad school and will have at least one more. Of course, that made perfect sense. Of course, I still felt terrible (I still do).  My daughter acted as if she was completely okay with this solution, but I found her crying in her bedroom a little later, and my heart broke when I hugged her and she whispered, "I miss my dad."

Of course, we miss him every single day, and holidays are especially difficult, but these graduations are the first "events" where both my son and daughter won't look out and see at least one parent's proud (in the case of both of us) smiles and (in my case) misty eyes. Foolishly, I began frantically trying to figure out how I might be able to attend both graduations. I even briefly considered asking the president of her fairly small private college if she could "walk" twice -- once a day or two before with me taking pictures and a second time with her fellow graduates on Saturday morning. I knew, though, that my daughter wouldn't feel comfortable with that, even if the details could somehow be worked out.

The final plan we arrived at is for me to attend my son's graduation and for my sister and brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and wife to attend my daughter's ceremony; some of my daughter's friends are attending as well.  I ordered a DVD of both ceremonies and am planning a surprise graduation party for just my son, daughter, and I when he comes for a visit near the end of the month. We'll watch the DVDs, share a bottle of champagne, and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.

This conflict, as well as the recent weddings of two of my son's best friends and seeing my son serve as a groomsman in each, has caused me to be even more  aware that there are going to be other major events that will be bittersweet because of my husband's absence. Weddings, births of grandchildren . . .

What is the best way to handle these events? "Best" being relative, of course. Do I mention how proud their father would be of them? Or will that cast a shadow over the otherwise-happy event? Should I write a message in a card? Will there come a day when I will be able to share that truth and receive a smile and a quiet "Yeah, he would" in response? I don't know the answer to any of those questions. And therein lies the problem. What is the right thing to do, to say?

For me, the answer is one I've given to many questions over the years: it depends, primarily on the child. This coming Saturday, I will look for an opportunity to privately tell my son how proud and excited his father would be and how I'm sure he would have teasingly called him "Dr. Miinch". Knowing my son, he'll first nod his head and look serious, but then a slight smile will cross his face and he'll give me a hug. For my daughter, such a comment would almost surely bring tears that she would not want to shed publicly; instead, I will write her a short note that she can read privately when she feels ready.

In short, I'll do the best I can under the circumstances. Thankfully, both my son and daughter recognize and are appreciative of that and  graciously and lovingly ignore those times when my best falls short.

How have you handled those special occasions -- holidays, life's milestones -- that can be so difficult in the wake of the loss of a spouse (or child)? Have you found ways to make these events less strained? If so, I hope you'll share by adding a comment. Likewise, if you have some particular situation or concern that you'd like to share, please do. Perhaps sharing will help a bit; hopefully, I may be aware of some resource or strategy that might help. Also, if you have a suggestion for an issue/topic you'd like me to address on a future post, please either share below or email me at


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Tomorrow will be the 8th Mother's Day (in a row) that I have spent with only one of my children. In May 2006, my son had his first Spring finals the week after Mother's Day, so instead of spending the day with me, he was holed-up in his Ole Miss dorm room studying. I shared that with a lady today at the knitting class I'm taking when she asked what my kids and I would be doing tomorrow. Her shocked, sympathetic look told me her children must either still live at home or at least close enough to spend the day with her. I explained that his absence doesn't bother me.  I know it isn't by choice that he spends Mother's Day in a different city. Of course, I'd love to spend Mother's Day with both of my children (heck, I'd love to spend every day with them!), but the truth of the matter is that Mother's Day, as special as it is, is just the one day we pause to recognize and honor mothers. Instead of focusing on what my children do on that day, I prefer to think of what my son and daughter do throughout the year. For example, they talk to me regularly. My son calls just to chat, to share with me what is going on in his life and to ask what's going on in mine. And he is genuinely interested (trust me, he's not a good actor and never has been, so I'd know if he was faking). He remembers things I've mentioned and brings them up again later, he remembers the names of coworkers and friends. My daughter is living with me during her senior year in college (after having lived in a house with friends the past couple of years), and she and I have wonderful discussions on an almost-daily basis. They also show an interest in what I'm doing and in what's important to me. They tease me about some things, of course, but they ask about my classes, this blog, and other things that I value. They don't share many of my interests -- I'm a writer, an artisan who is interested in minimalism, spirituality, etc. while they are focused on their social life, classes and/or new career, and other things that make up a young adult's life. But they are not self-absorbed, and their interest in what is important to me warms my heart. My son and daughter do many other things, some small and some not-so-small, throughout the year. Tomorrow, though, my daughter will be with me. I'm fairly certain that she will bring me breakfast in bed; she's never missed a year yet. We'll have a nice day together, and I will enjoy her company, as I always do. Whatever Mother's Day means to you -- as a daughter, a mom, a step-mom, a 2nd mom -- I hope tomorrow is a very special day for you. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On the Road Again!

Vacations are, for many people, a wonderful, much-anticipated event. Travel to new and interesting places or to family favorites as well as being off work and away from the normal routine can be relaxing and rejuvenating. That may not be the case, though, for those whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the loss of a spouse. In fact, solo travel can be downright intimidating to many widows and widowers; concerns about safety and lack of companionship, for example, can cause them to simply stay home.

I have been fortunate in this respect. For the first few years after my husband passed away, my son and daughter vacationed with me.  I knew last summer, though, that our July trip to Disney World might well be our last real family vacation. With my son starting his residency and my daughter her Masters sometime in late May or early June this year, it was clear they wouldn't be able to travel with me, and I'd be on my own.

With that in mind, last Fall I began researching and considering options and was pleasantly surprised at the many options to choose from. After considerable though, poring over websites, and turning down page corners on some gorgeous brochures, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. When I was in elementary school, my family took a trip to Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee and only 6 hours from home. I was about 7 or 8 at the time and, I must admit, I really don't remember much about the trip.

One thing I do remember, though, is stopping at a state tourism welcome center along the way and picking up a copy of every one of the tourist attraction brochures located in a wooden case in the lobby of the center. At first, my mother told me to put them back, but the sweet older lady with a charming Southern accent told my mother it was alright, that's what they were there for, and it would give me something to read while riding in the car. Read, I did. I read every single brochure, and I made 3 stacks -- one for the places I really wanted to visit, a second for the places I might want to visit, and the last for the brochures to be thrown away. For some reason, I was captivated by the brochure from The John C. Campbell Folk School, and I saved it for several years, begging my parents every winter to take us there for vacation the following summer. It never happened.

Thirty years later, I attended a scrapbook retreat and heard several ladies talking about their "100 Things" albums. In it, they kept a list of 100 things they hoped to do -- everything from something as simple as "find a 4-leaf clover" to a "go on a 10-day African safari". List-maker that I have always been, I was intrigued by the idea, and when I returned home, I began creating my list of 100 things. The 2nd item (right behind "attend a Neil Diamond concert") was "take a class at The John C. Campbell Folk School". I couldn't talk the rest of my family into a trip there -- none of them wanted to take a class for vacation, so I put my dream aside, saving it for when the children were grown and gone.

This past November, I dug out my old "100 Things" list, revised it a bit, and decided that starting January 2013, I would accomplish four of the items from my "100 List" every year. I knew right away that attending a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School was a priority, so I studied their online calendar, signed up for a class, and 2 weeks ago tomorrow I made the drive to Brassville, North Carolina to attend a Beginning Jewelry class. It was without a doubt the perfect choice for my first solo trip!

Are you intimidated by the idea of solo travel? If so, please check out the links provided below. Many of these companies cater to women; I've marked those accordingly, if that is not indicated in the name of the site. I hope at least one of these sites piques your interest and causes you to step out, meet some new people, and have some wonderful experiences. Then, I hope you'll come back and tell share about your experiences! -- women's trips with an adventurous bent, but don't be put off by the name -- trips are available to women of all levels of experience

www.adventuresingoodcompany -- women-only trips active and fun women-only trips (I have to admit that I love the name!) -- hiking and biking trips all over the world, with trips for every skill level. These trips are not restricted just to widows/widowers but from what I've read, singles of all ages are welcome, attend, and have a wonderful time. -- an interesting blog for women who like to camp with a list of women's camping groups and lots of other fantastic information -- adventure trips and excursions for women of all levels of experience -- facebook site for a company specializing in international trips for women -- the home site for The John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina; the school offers weekend and weeklong classes for men and women (multi-generational week as well) in a variety of arts/skills -- formerly known as Elder Hostel, this group offers trips of all types all over the world for men and women over the age of 50, with some trips for grandparents and their grandchildren -- the site for arguably the most famous female camper's groups out there -- this site will make even an avowed Hilton-gal consider renting or buying a camper and joining the caravan -- an online network of travel opportunities for women travelers -- the name says it all -- this company offers walking vacations for women only -- backpacking trips for women -- an interesting article with a tips for the female solo traveler

If you know of any other sites or companies, please share by commenting below. Happy trails!