The most exciting thing that happened to me in 2009 was (surprise!) cataract surgery. For the first time since age four, I don't wear glasses. And after further surgery in August, I don't even have to wear them for reading. Know how you imagine everyone is looking at you? I was so sure when I went back to work after the operation that everyone would notice I wasn't wearing glasses, but the only person who did was the janitor at one of the schools I work with.
I had several articles accepted for publication this year: "The Possum That Changed My Life" which was published in the anthology This Path in August and "A Tale of Two Doctors: The Patient's Point of View" which will come out next summer in Survivor's Journal. Also had an essay "Do It Yourself, Mom" place in a contest. The essay can also be seen on http://www.inspirationpeak.com/ at various times.
In 2009 I discovered The Transition Network, a dynamic group of women who meet monthly for conversations about life challenges. I've met so many interesting people through this group and published a piece on their national website about writing an ethical will. We also have a subgroup on death and dying. We call it Death, Dying, and Dessert.
I learned to play bridge (but poorly); my granddaughter turned 11 and sang a song in memory of her grandpa (mentioned in an earlier post), I visited my husband's family and his gravesite. Houston didn't have a hurricane this year, but we did have snow in December. Texas is going to the BCS Championship game; Roger Federer won the French Open (Can you tell I love sports?)
I miss Ralph every day--when I wake up and he's not there, when something goes wrong in the house (Right now a weird noise is coming from the bathroom, and I see a plumber in my future.)
I miss laughing with him, arguing politics (Our votes were always opposite). I miss his cooking, his willingness to listen. Sometimes I even miss his snoring.
But I've been blessed with a wonderful family and good friends, so I'm plugging along and looking forward to 2010.
Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the blugeonings of chance My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul. William Earnest Henley
I have always loved this poem. Henley was ill with tuberculosis, lost his foot to the disease, but kept his courage. Saturday I saw the movie "Invictus" and was delighted to learn that this poem sustained Nelson Mandela while he was in prison. Hearing Morgan Freeman read the poem was a special treat. The movie was a bit predictable but it was uplifting. I love sports movies (though I had no idea rugby was so violent!). I highly recommend the movie.
Saturday was my wedding anniversary. It would have been our 39th. Even though this was a second marriage for both of us, we were sure we'd make it to our 50th.
December 19 isn't as hard for me as Ralph's birthday or the anniversary of his death. Saturday I went to a movie with two friends. We had lunch first at a little coffee shop in our neighborhood and there I ran into a business friend of Ralph's that I haven't seen in years. On any other day I wouldn't have thought much about it, but on our wedding anniversary it seemed special, as if I'd gotten a message from Ralph.
In the evening I picked up the picture of us taken a few months before he got sick, and then it hit me all over again that he is gone.
So I did two things. First, I used my cell to call our phone number. I still keep his voice on the answering machine (safer to have a man answer) and I call whenever I'm lonely and listen to him.
Second, I spent time remembering special times we had together. We met at a party, and he called the next day and asked me out. He was the first since my divorce and I started to say no, but then I decided he'd be good to practice on. Surprise! He was the real thing, not a practice guy. Two years later we were married.
I remembered once when we both woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep. We decided to go out for a very early breakfast and the only place we could find open was IHOP. That became our middle-of-the-night place from then on.
I remembered us going to a chili cookoff one day. I didn't want to go but Ralph said, "Come on. You'll get a book out of it." Sure enough, I came up with The Great Chili Caper for Harlequin Temptation. To help with my research Ralph joined the Chili Society and came home reeking of chili pepper and cigarette smoke after each meeting. We even went to the International Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, TX.
I remembered our collection of oxymorons, Ralph's special turkey dressing recipe, his penchant for feeding stray cats, his geeky habit of keeping pens and pencils in his shirt pocket, our bluebonnet trips every spring, and on and on. We had a good life together. I'm only sorry it wasn't longer.
I thought I'd add an extra post this week. Here are some tips on getting through the holidays from a psychiatrist friend.
Give yourself permission to cry if you have to, need to, want to.
If your budget is tight (and whose isn't these days? )think of passing on a favorite book, an album of family photos, or some other special possession instead of buying a gift for a friend/family member.
Keep your home full of light. This is the dark time of year in which Seasonal Affective Disorder can hit you and heaven knows, we don't need another way to be depressed. Lots of natural light combats SAD and lifts your spirits.
You would have given your spouse a gift if he were still here, so spend some of that money by contributing to a charity in someone's name instead of buying something for them.
Donate to the library for a book dedicated to your spouse.
Together with your children or grandchildren, give a gift donation for a needy child. I give my granddaughter a check to donate to a charity of her choice each year, with the stipulation that she write a letter explaining why she's donating to them. Two years ago, she wrote the sweetest letter to the Leukemia Society. I made a copy and framed it. It brought joy to my holiday as well as helping fight the disease my husband had.
Hang a stocking for your spouse and ask friends/family to fill it with notes about your spouse. You may cry as you read them, but they'll be "good" tears.
And of course, get plenty of rest, eat healthy snacks (I know it's impossible with all those holiday goodies)and exercise--walk somewhere that was meaningful to you and your husband.
And finally, please don't spend the holiday alone.
What lies behind us and what lies befrore us are small matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Those of us who walk through the widowsphere have rough times, painful times behind us. Times when we lost the person who mattered most. But I know that no matter what happened then or what will happen in the future, within all of us is a core of strength. It's kept us going when we wanted to give up, give in. I used to fall apart over the smallest thing; now that I've experienced the "biggest thing," the loss of my husband, I feel I can handle just about anything, don't you? We're all stronger than we ever imagined. Because we had no choice, we kept going and we'll keep on going.
Have a good week, and give yourself credit for being a survivor. See you in seven.
At this time of the year it's comforting to have a book whose author understands what you've faced. Here are some of my favorites:
Healing After Loss by Martha Hickman, Collins Living, 1994. A colleague sent me this soon after Ralph died. That was one of the nicest things anyone did for me. Daily meditations on loss, short enough to read in a couple of minutes.
Companion Through the Darkness by Stephanie Ericsson, Harper Paperbacks, 1993. Lyrical musings about widowhood.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner, Anchor, 2004. A classic. You don't have to be Jewish to learn from this book.
Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverbend Trade Books, 2001. An inspirational book, not just for widows. One of my very favorite books.
A Prayer for Courage
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
But to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stifling of my pain,
But for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield
But to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
But hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward,
Feeling your mercy in my success alone,
But let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
On Friday, December 4, Houston had snow. Real snow. All day. White flakes drifting down, piling up on roofs, in gardens, on fences.
In the past 100 years it has snowed only 35 times in this part of Texas, and never this early in the year. We made the national news.
The next morning when I went out to pick up the paper, snow still glittered in the sunshine, the remnant of a memorable day.
Five years ago, the last winter before Ralph died, we had snow on December 24 and 25 At midnight Ralph and I ran outside in the chilly air and stared at the beauty around us. A white Christmas. Probably Houston's one and only. It's a lovely memory, and I wish he could have shared this snowy day with me.
Thanksgiving was a beautiful, clear fall day. The morning felt peaceful. I baked and read The Handmaid's Tale for my book club. Hadn't read it in years but I love it.
Dinner was at my daughter-in-law's sister's house. It was a noisy family gathering with lots of good food and nine (yes, nine) pies. And best of all, it was my granddaughter Gabriella's 11th birthday. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. We went to the hospital soon after her mom went into labor and I thought I would never do this, but I stayed in the room for the birth and had the joy of seeing her whoosh into the world, with a crop of black hair and huge brown eyes.
She was so dear to Ralph. One of his last wishes was to see her one more time. He was on the bone marrow transplant floor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and no children are allowed, but his wonderful doctor arranged for him to go downstairs in a wheelchair. It was a sweet but heartbreaking moment to see them together for the last time. When we went back to the floor, he said, "I hope she won't forget me." I repeated this to Gabriella a year or so after he died, and she said, "How could I forget Popo? I loved him. If I could have one wish, I'd wish for him to come back to you."
Please, please click on the link to Facebook above. You'll see a video of Gabriella singing a song she dedicated to her granddad.
Sign I saw at a shopping center today: Do the math. Count your blessings. Hard to do when widowhood is new but worth a try.
And here's a neat way to do that. In Parade Magazine today there was an article by Jonathan Franzen, author of Everything is Illuminated, in which he talked about his childhood Thanksgiving dinners at his grandmother's home. She put a handful of popcorn kernels on everyone's plate. During the meal as each person thought of something he or she was thankful for, they'd take a kernel from their plate and silently put it in the middle of the table. By the end of the meal there'd be a whole pile of popcorn kernels enumerating everyone's blessings.
Today I'm listing two of my standard Thanksgiving dishes:
Strawberry Perfection Salad (Both my sister and I make this every year for our respective dinners) 2 pkgs. strawberry jello dissolved in 1 1/2 cups boiling water 10 oz. pkg. frozen strawberries with juice 3 whipped bananas 1 small can crushed pineapple with juice 1/2 pint sour cream
Mix first 5 ingredients and pour half into mold which has been lightly oiled. Chill until firm. Spread sour cream over this layer, then add cooled remainder of strawberry mixture by spooning over sour cream. Refrigerate 1 1/2 hours.
Spinach Casserole (My daughter's Mom-it's-not-Thanksgiving-without-this dish) 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach 1/2 pint sour cream 1 medium can mushrooms 1 can artichoke hearts, sliced
Cook and drain spinach. Add sour cream and mushrooms. Put half of mixture into a buttered casserole. Slice artichoke hearts and put on top. Top with rest of spinach mixture. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Holidays are tough. Thanksgiving is especially hard for me. It was the premier holiday of our year. Although I made sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, spinach casserole and dessert, Ralph always cooked the turkey and dressing, including his own recipe for jalapeno dressing (which I avoided like the plague). At dinner, everyone would chorus, "This is the best turkey you've eeeverr made," and he would grin like a fool.
Further back, I remember the Thanksgivings of my Austin childhood: big family gatherings, sometimes with soldiers stationed at nearby bases, the Texas-Texas A&M game and the UT Tower glowing orange against the night sky after a Longhorn victory.
I'm fortunate that my children live in town. Now I celebrate Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law's family. Different home, different table. That makes it easier.
I've kept my husband's message on the answering machine, and at the end of the day I dial our number to hear his voice on a special day. Then I shed a few tears in private.
What else works? Starting a new ritual, inviting friends to dinner who haven't shared past Thanksgivings may help. Or if you can't manage cooking, going out with others who are alone is a good idea (even though restaurant turkey isn't the same as home-cooked). Spending the day volunteering at a facility that feeds the homeless may make you feel needed. If your church or synagogue sponsors a Thanksgiving dinner, go. Make a list of things you're thankful for; you'll surprise yourself that even when you're grieving, there are many things to appreciate--the support of friends, the lovely fall colors, the sound of a child's laughter.
The one thing you probably shouldn't do is be alone. Sharing, even if you're sharing loneliness, really does help.
The widowsphere is a new world for us, a world we didn't choose. When we enter for the first time, the dark is all around us. We feel as if we're sinking knee-deep in muck. We're lonely, scared, overwhelmed with the tasks that follow a death: probate, death certificates, bank accounts, car titles, social security. I remember bursting into tears at the bank when I was trying to set up a new account. We wonder how we'll get through this. Is this what it's going to be like forever?
But slowly, we see pinpoints of light through the dark: a memory that makes us laugh, a meal that doesn't taste like cardboard, a sunrise that reminds us there's beauty in the world. And step by step, we gather courage. We get through a day, then a month. We find a new interest, a new friend, a way to help others, and we begin to believe with the poet Wendell Berry, "that the dark, too, blooms and sings."
Whether you're a new widow or a veteran like me, you may find the bulletin boards on www.widownet.org helpful. There's a thread for everyone, no matter where you are in your journey.
And I hope you'll be back here, too. See you in seven.
I'm a big believer in bibliotherapy. Reading about other women facing widowhood has reminded me I'm not alone, touched my heart, given me ideas for dealing with my new life, made me cry and sometimes made me laugh.
Here are some books about the widowhood experience. You can find them online at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.
Epilogue: A Memoir by Anne Roiphe My favorite book on widowshood. We first see Roiphe standing frozen at the front door of her apartment. She has left the door unlocked. Whenever they returned from an evening out, her husband, now gone, opened the door with his key. She isn't sure she can make the key work, hence the unlocked door. She sounds wimpy, doesn't she, but we can all relate to the feeling of helplessness early in our widowhood. The book relates her first year alone, her sometimes hilarious attempts at dating, her uncertainty, confusion and finally strength.
It Must Have Been Moonglow by Phyllis Greene An engaging read about early widowhood. I loved the chapter entitled "Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty." It was so Me.
What Remains, A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love by Carole Radziwill Married to Lee Radziwill's son, friend of John Kennedy, Junior and his wife Caroline, Carole Radziwill recounts the loss of her husband to cancer three weeks after the young Kennedys died in a plane crash. Born to a working-class family, she lives a Cinderella story, becoming a television producer at ABC. Her handsome prince is stricken with cancer, her best friends die, and she is left to make sense of what remains. Not the ordinary, middle-class widow's tale, but a fascinating one nonetheless.
Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood by Betty Auchard Beginning with her husband's death, takes us through her early widowhood and into the world of dating.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion As soon as it was released, this book became an instant bestseller and many see it as the classic on widowhood. I personally didn't like it. I found Didion cold and distant and my perception didn't change after hearing her read from the book. But I do like the beginning: Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
Have you read these books? Have you found books helpful? Any recommendations?
In weeks to come, we'll talk about other kinds of books, advice to widows, how to books, and others. See you in seven.
Spain: 1. Madrid is the highest and greenest capital city in Europe.
2. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has 3 two-story high red copies of the Venus de Milo. They are made of styrofoam.
3. The temperature in Seville can be as high as 120 degrees F in summer.
4. Cervantes, Spain's premier author, died the same day as Shakespeare.
5. The Santa Maria Cathedral in Seville is the third largest in the world after St. Peter's and St. Paul's (Think Peter, Paul and Mary.)
Gibraltar 1. The Rock of Gibraltar is not solid. It contains many caves, one of which has an auditorium used for concerts.
2. The apes of Gibraltar are not apes. They are macaque monkeys. Legend says that as long as they remain in Gibraltar, the island will belong to the British. When the monkey colony decreased, the British brought in additional animals.
Photos below: The entrance to the bull ring in Pamplona; the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada; the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Vacations are filled with surprises and this one was no different. True to my experiences in flying to Paris, nothing went as planned.
Thirty minutes out of Houston the plane turned around. The bad news was, they'd found a leak in the hydraulic system. The good news was we weren't somewhere over the Atlantic.
The pilot assured us if they couldn't repair the damage in an hour, they'd cancel the flight. Bad news, they also had a flat tire and we sat on the tarmac for five hours. Good news, the air conditioning worked and they fed us dinner.
At 10:00 they cancelled the flight. Bad news, we had to spend an hour retreving our luggage, then stand in line for another three hours to get rerouted. Good news, they got me on a flight to Madrid with a connection in Newark, not Paris, the next afternoon.
Bad news, I didn't get to the hotel they put us up in until 3:00 a.m. I fell into bed fully clothed. Good news, breakfast the next day, courtesy of Air France, was delicious.
Bad news, when I got back to the airport and checked in for my new flight, they didn't have me booked. Good news, they had space on the plane.
Worst news, when I landed in Madrid, I turned on my cell phone and got a message from my sister. She was ill with a viral infection and wasn't coming. I am an extremely shy person and the thought of going on this tour with a bunch of strangers scared me to death. No outgoing husband, no sister as a buffer. But I could hardly turn around and fly home. Best news, in spite of being by myself, I had a wonderful time. Since I was on a tour, there were plenty of people around, all of them friendly and interesting.
The experience was liberating. I now know I can manage alone. Traveling by myself wouldn't be my first choice, but I could do it again.
Widowhood is pretty awful, but at the same time it's taught me that I'm much more competent...and confident than I ever thought possible.
Have you had similar experiences? Let's talk about them.
"My heart is warm with the friends I make, And better friends I'll not be knowing; Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take No matter where it's going." "Travel" by Edna St.Vincent Millay
This Thursday I'm leaving for two weeks in Spain.
I've always loved to travel. Ralph and I took many memorable trips together. We chuckled at the antics of penguins in Antarctica, stood on the plaza at Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico during an eclipse of the sun, rode in a hot air baloon in Utah, strolled along the Seine, the Thames, the Mississippi.
Even though he's no longer with me, I still love traveling, whether it's fifty miles from home or across the world. Traveling brings me joy. It gives me something to look forward to. Planning a trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself. And then there are the photos, the souvenirs to take out and laugh over for years to come.
I'm traveling to Spain with my sister. We share a remarkably poor sense of direction and have gotten lost together in several states and a number of countries. This trip probably won't be any different.
"If God had really intended men to fly, He'd make it easier to get to the airport." George Winters
I have an ambivalent relationship with airports. On the one hand, I am fascainted by all the people coming and going. On the other, I really don't trust the air transit system. If they can make you late, they will.
I've had some bizarre experiences in airports, especially in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport is my nemesis. Once I was strolling happily along, wheeling my suitcase behind me and then I stepped up on the bus, caught the suitcase on the step, fell forward flat on my face...and broke my nose. How many people can boast that they broke their nose in Paris?
But that was only the beginning. As my friend and I followed the lady from Air France through the airport (Did it ever occur to her to get me a wheelchair? Nope.) we decided to get a cart for our luggage. We pushed it onto the moving sidewalk and at the very end, the cart caught on the sidewalk and fell over, my friend fell on the cart, I fell on her, and the people behind me fell on me. My elbow still shows the scars. We continued on--miles and miles, it seemed like--De Gaulle is a laaarge airpport and finally arrived at the medical office. By that time my face was black and blue and my arm was dripping blood. The lady at the desk gave us a blank stare. "Did you want to see a doctor?" she asked. Duh!
The next time I flew through Paris the terminal had to be evacuated because someone left an unattended suitcase. Long story short, I missed my plane. "You should have gotten here earlier," the gate attendant snapped. Another woman and I trudged to the Air France counter and finally managed to persuade them to book us on the next available flight. (I cried.) Then we decided to have lunch. "I guess we should introduce ourselves," my compansion said. "I'm Louise."
At least we made it home without driving off a cliff.
I'll leave you with another quote and my hope that you, too, will travel, across the International Date Line or around the block. Adventure awaits. See you when I get back.
"When you set out for Ithaka, Hope your road will be a long one, Full of adventure, full of discovery..." from "Ithaka" by C.V. Cavafy
To live in this world You must be able To do three things: To love what is mortal, To hold it Against your bones knowing Your own life depends on it, And when the time comes to let it go To let it go. From "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver Soon after my husband’s death I took the first steps toward letting go. At the suggestion of a friend, I joined a grief group. In fact, I joined two.
The first was a disaster. I took an instant dislike to the facilitator, who began by informing us in a rather smug voice that she’d never experienced a loss. She appeared to be in her late forties. Wow, I thought, haven’t you ever lost a pet? A favorite teacher? A best friend? Was there ever a relationship in your life that failed? Losing a spouse or close family member is the greatest grief, but come on, lady. No grief at all? My annoyance increased when she answered the one question I asked with a shrug. I wanted to march out the door, but I stuck it out until the end of the session. Needless to say, I never went back.
The second group, led by a hospital chaplain, was completely different. Members of the group had suffered varied losses—a runaway son who was found dead, a beloved parent, a life partner. Several of us had lost spouses.
As we talked about our losses and the ways we were coping, the group leader surprised me by saying, “How lucky all of you were to have loved someone enough to grieve their loss.” That statement turned grief on its head for me. Yes, I was sad, but Ralph and I had loved one another deeply, had shared so much, had made memories for me to cherish. Those words became my comfort during the darkest days. I hope you find them helpful, too.
Have you attended grief groups? Were they helpful? Let's talk about them.
Hello, it's a "sort of" fall day in Houston, just the first tiny cool breeze after a brutal summer. Fall is my favorite time of year, or it used to be before my husband's illness and death. His first symptoms occurred in late September 2004. By the end of October he was diagnosed with leukemia and the next October he was gone. So now fall is bittersweet for me.
Life is like a mosaic. Hundreds of tiny pieces fit together to form a pattern, and when one piece disappears, the entire pattern has to be reshaped into a new one . You can't just slap the tiles together and forget about the missing piece. It takes time to reposition, rethink, reorganize. That's what widowhood is, the rearranging of a life into a new meaningful whole.
I think I've done that, that I'm whole again. And then the first hint of autumn pricks my heart and reminds me I'm not quite as finished as I thought.
But I'm working on it. I hope you are, too. See you in seven.
I am a member of a club I never wanted to join: The Society of the Recently Widowed. If you're reading this, you're probably a member, too.
Widowhood puts us in good company. In nearly all species, from humans to chimpanzees, from chickens to even fruit flies. females outlive males. I thought I had outsmarted biology by marrying a man five years younger. I hadn't counted on cancer depriving me of my spouse. But what seemed like an annoying sore throat was the first symptom of acute myelogenous leukemia, an insidious disease that would claim my husband's life in less than a year.
So here I am four years later, a veteran widow. I'm on a new journey, and this time I'm going it alone. I hope you'll join me as we explore this territory we've been thrust into. We'll focus on the gaffes, glitches and gripes as well as the growth, goals and yes, the gratitude we experience as we navigate this path. We'll make some wrong turns, explore new vistas, laugh and cry together. We'll focus on the practical--cooking for one, for example--the emotional--how you make it through the holidays--the enrichment of our lives and many other topics.
Welcome! Please let me know where you are in your journey and what you'd like to discuss. I'll be posting every week. See you in seven.
I'm the mother of three, grandmother of two, slave of two demanding cats. I've been a widow for four years and have taught resource courses for widows and widowers. I've written romance novels. See my website at www.eclectics.com/ lornamichaels. Currently I'm working on a memoir titled Stumbing Through the Dark.
More about me: Born in Austin, TX
Favorite color: purple
Favorite song: The Wind Beneath My Wings (hear it as you read this blog)
Like to: read, cook, travel (last big trip was to Spain) write, learn new things.
Hate to: exercise