A Party of One.

Instantly–just like that–I was alone.

In the beginning, there are people everywhere. There is rarely a moment when people aren’t swarming. They are hugging each other and the widow. They bring food. They help greet other guests. They try to talk about something else, but they also want to know the details. They are all reeling too. To tell the truth, it really didn’t matter how many people were in the room–I was alone.

As time passed, the people around me went back to their normal lives. Sure, they checked on me and sent words of encouragement. It didn’t matter, I was still alone. Whether the kids were there or we were in church or even if we went to the show I was alone.

My buffer to the world was gone. My listening ear and advice giver was gone. My handyman, yard man, babysitter, lover, best friend, and protector were all gone. That was hard enough to deal with. What hurt the most–what bothered me almost more than I could bear–I was no longer married.

I was a woman, single, with 3 children and no income. It instantly changed the way friends and strangers treated me. It’s just another double standard in the world–one that most people do not think about. Things that had once been okay for a married woman to do, suddenly, being single made it different.

Before his death, there were many groups I felt apart of. After his death, there were very few. I was a part of our large set of high school friends. Without him, I was the single, broken girl in a sea of happy high school couples turned husband and wife. I had been part of a small church family, but after Randy’s death church felt like a cage and the people in it viewed me through a different set of eyes. Volunteering at school made me happy and I knew everyone. After Randy died, I lost touch with most of those women because of my grief and lack of time. The list goes on.

A large part of the problem was no one knew how to relate to me anymore. No one wanted to mention Randy in fear of upsetting me. No one wanted to ignore it in fear of hurting my feelings. People couldn’t be the happy couple because they felt like they were throwing their happiness in my face. The sacredness of the place mixed with emotional loss just made it more than I could handle. I tried to volunteer, but my time was obviously limited. Aside from that, when I was at school, I felt like everyone was talking about me behind my back and staring at me when I wasn’t looking. I was clearly not fitting in.

Isolation is not good for anyone. It is especially bad for someone who is terribly sad. I didn’t know how to fix the problem. I couldn’t change that I was no longer half of a couple–I couldn’t bring him back. I had enough to take care of, I couldn’t help other people be okay too. I had to realize as much as I like to fix things/situations, I could not fix this.

I tried to ignore it. I tried to act like I didn’t notice the stares or hear the whispers. I tried to sit in church and actually listen instead of cry constantly. I couldn’t do it.  I hoped with time, things would take their natural course and bring me back to the groups I once enjoyed. Until then, I replaced those groups with groups that fit the new me–my new life.

I looked for widow support groups. I found some–too bad they were not geared towards young widows. As I have mentioned, younger widows share a very different set of concerns and issues than older widows experience. I found nothing that could help me connect to people in the same circumstance.

I joined a gym. It felt great to get in there, work up a sweat and get rid of some anger. I made friends with the women who ran the daycare at the facility. The front desk knew me. I hired a personal trainer to guide me and we developed a friendship. I felt like I was somewhere I belonged, and I was making progress on my body too.

I didn’t stop there. I started volunteering again. This time it was through a pregnancy center that often helped young moms through some really tough times and hard decisions. It was a Christian based center and I love that. I met other Christians who were willing to learn about me as I stood and they knew little of my old life. I felt good. I liked the people. I felt like I belonged. I also loved the work. It was near and dear to my heart since I was a teen mom long before MTV turned them into celebrities.

I found places to fit in that didn’t ask me too much about my life. If someone mentioned my husband, I just acted as if he was living and answered the question, or spoke about a past story, or smiled and deflected the comment. It was easier–plus, I just didn’t think it was anyone’s business, quite honestly.

I am sure I am not the only one who has felt alone on this journey or like they no longer fit in to the life they once had. It’s a time of adjustment and re-learning who you are. Don’t hide away from those feelings and no matter what, never believe you are the only one to feel this way. I think we all feel this to some level. If you haven’t felt this, you are lucky. If you have, heed these words: Don’t feel pressured to react the way I did or the way someone else did. Be you. Be the best you that you can be. Don’t be afraid of stepping out of your box–wonderful things happen when you do. You deserve wonderful.

You Have to Train Before Running a Marathon

There are many types of loss–some types of profound loss aren’t losses of loved ones. Divorce, loss of limbs, or even loss of a job can be emotionally devastating. Some experience a sudden loss of a loved one while others sit by helplessly watching the person they love slowly slip away. There isn’t one type of loss that hurts less than others–all feelings of loss are painful ones. Many aspects of grief that I experienced with the loss of Randy, ring true today as I watch my Grandma slowly lose a battle with Alzheimer’s–it’s a chronic loss. Every day, or every week, we grieve another piece of her.

When I come home from seeing her, I’m emotionally done. Often these days, I am physically worn out from running up the halls (and back) checking on her, talking to professionals about her care and how she is doing overall. Her and Grandpa are in the same facility, so often they have me fluttering around the halls getting her a pillow, him a shirt, a different drink, etc. And I do it, gladly, knowing my time is limited. The exhaustion doesn’t stop there, my mind is shot–I often feel like I might be suffering from dementia. My brain is full. My mind is constantly sorting through must do for kids, my honey-do list, and medical problems, insurance benefits, facility problems, or tasks to complete. The few hours I sleep at night, my only respite.

My social work experience/degree has helped tremendously. My EMT license, just as helpful. My time spent working in a hospital, specifically in Social Services, nearly priceless. I had complete living wills and Power of Attorneys taken care of years ago because I know how important they are. When we started noticing memory slips, we slowly took over household tasks as they became too difficult for my grandparents to complete/handle. We did that until we had completely taken over all the responsibilities for their house, bills, car, and health. My mom and I were solely responsible for their well-being and management of their standard of living.

I know there are times in our lives when other things and other people are more important than watching Grey’s Anatomy or folding clothes. I don’t regret doing all I can for my grandparents. I owe them that, at the very least–in fact, I wish I could do more. I have missed my family. I have not worked with my toddlers on language and motor skills. I didn’t open the pool and I don’t play outside with them. I often order out more than I cook, or worse yet, leave them to fend for themselves. My older kids are raising my younger kids. My husband is asleep when I’m home and I’m gone when he’s home. We don’t have date nights–we don’t even have conversations, unless he is listening to me vent and I don’t think that really counts.

I feel guilty. I feel like I should do more. Sometimes, I feel like I have failed everyone. Sometimes I want to cry, throw things and scream–other times I actually do it. I do sit, I do nap, and I do take long baths and I disappear to my bed earlier than I should in the evenings.  I sit alone in my car to steal a few more moments to myself. I pray quietly often. I try to write, but usually there are so many thoughts I can’t separate them.

My kids don’t understand. Maybe, my husband doesn’t either. For all I know, neither do you. I would like to say that it really doesn’t matter to me what you or anyone else thinks, however, guilt consumes me sometimes. What a bad mother I am to force my kids to watch their siblings while I take care of grandma–worse yet, I make them watch babies so I can do nothing. I sit on the couch while laundry piles up and floors collect crumbs. What kind of person am I? Intellectually, I can answer that–I’m human and can only do so much. Intellectually, thanks to my degree, I know I should take respite. I know that if I don’t use those stolen moments, I truly might lose my mind.

The other day, I met with a nurse. I was telling her my concerns about billing, money in general, and how this all works. She stopped me mid sentence. She put her hand on the table and said, “Sara, this is a worry free zone now. We are here and you are done being a social worker. You don’t have to be her nurse anymore. You get to be who you need to be. You are just going to be a daughter and grand-daughter. We will do the worrying, you do the loving.”

I have fought, with my mom right by my side, every step of the way to make sure we did the right things. Our goal has always been to make sure they are happy, comfortable, and safe. Every waking hour of every single day, being staunch protectors and ever available sources of comfort for Grandma and Grandpa. And just like that, one sentence freed me from those chains of guilt. Someone, who I trust, finally took control so we didn’t have to. I know I will worry, I know I will still spend hours with two of the most important people to ever enter my life, I will still bug nurses and sort through information–and, I know it only gets worse from here. It will be done through a grand-daughter’s eyes instead of a caregiver’s. I can assure you, the only thing that kept me from sobbing uncontrollably at the prospect was the shock of hearing such compassionate words from someone who barely knew me. 

I didn’t write this to receive accolades or atta-girls. As I tried to enjoy a long, hot bath tonight, I couldn’t help but ruminate on what happened. It really touched me. Beyond that, it made me remember those days and months after Randy died. It brought to mind some things that were hard for me while grieving. Maybe they are things you already know and do–maybe they are brand new way of thinking. Either way, it can’t hurt to share.

As I laid in the tub, I was thinking how nice it is to share the load with someone who knows what they are doing. Instant weight lifted from my shoulders.  The important part of this thought is, I let her in. Had I not admitted I (we) needed help, I’d never have discovered how important it is to get the right help. It was also a nice reminder to never give up. It reminded me how hard it was for me to open up and ask for help as a widow. Our tendency is to pull in and cut people off–we shut off friends and strangers alike. People surround us with very painful memories of happier times. While it is important to be introspective, it is potentially harmful if  you do it without a plan in place.

It is hard to reach out. Reaching out makes your pain public and it forces you to show the world how vulnerable you really are. I assure you, asking for help is not a sign of weakness–it will be one of the biggest tests of courage most of us will ever face. After I admitted to myself that I was all overwhelmed, I called Randy’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and asked to talk to someone. They connected me to a counselor (a social worker). I made an appointment.

I dreaded every second leading up to that appointment, and many appointments after. My anxiety was on overload and I wanted nothing more than a perfect excuse to stay home–or, better yet, in bed. Sometimes, I looked hard enough that I found one. Harder yet was sharing my story with her for the first time. I’m not sure how she even understood through my blubbering. Somehow, not only did she understand how hard it was, but surprised me with her caring nature and plan for getting me on track. Pulling into yourself and not letting others in, increases your work load and your anxiety. Fears and sadness run rampant. It isn’t easy asking for help , but it is damn sure easier than doing it alone.

Grieving, especially if you have children at home, can drench you with guilt. I felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn’t be the person I was before the accident. Guilty that I couldn’t manage to cook dinner and help them complete their homework all in one night or that the dirty dishes filled the sink and overflowed onto the counter.

If you were to slice your hand wide open, to the bone, you might feel a little silly explaining to someone how it happened, but you would never dream about refusing stitches to save explaining your lapse in judgment. You would head to the emergency room, let them treat your pain and the wound itself. You know that getting stitches might hurt, but letting a gaping wound go untreated and become infected would only make things worse. It would cause more pain, more extensive treatment, and a lot more time to recuperate.

Grieving with help is exactly like that. This is a wound so deep you probably do not have the know-how, where-with-all, or tools to manage it on your own and there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling in a professional before it is so infected you lose a piece of yourself. And, if you are grieving with children in the home, it helps them know you are okay–they have already lost one parent, I guarantee they worry about losing you too. It shows them you can be sad without losing yourself. It shows them how to take care of themselves in difficult situations. There is no reason to risk irreversible damage to you or your kids.

People spend years and years getting degrees to help people like you. Those counselors could have been engineers, teachers or scientists. They chose to be counselors and therapists because they want to help people. Many of them chose their careers based on their own troubles throughout life, so they might have a personal understanding of how vicious grief is.

I have written similar posts to this one, I’m sure. I strongly believe in its message and this new journey has reconfirmed that belief. While you may be a different person now, and you might not be able to take a step away from this situation to relax, there are things you can do. Do as many things as you can to come out the other side a whole person.

April 12, 2002: Eight Months After My World Quit Turning.

This is a journal entry that I kept online after Randy died. It is as it was when I wrote it. Mistakes, passion, and at times unintelligible blabbering all included. It isn’t pretty. It was real, though. This was a vent. If you haven’t been where I was during the time I wrote this, then don’t judge. If you have been in this state… then, you completely understand.

April 12, 2002

I am so tired of being by myself. I am tired of having little conversation outside of this house and the only communication inside the house consisting of direction to my children. I am tired of everyone depending on me to come up with the best answers. I am tired of it being me alone that cleans up everyone’s messes all the time. I am tired of falling asleep to the cold pillow on my face. I am tired of having no one to depend on for the type of support I need. I am tired of not being hugged or kissed. They say that it is proven to be necessary for people to thrive. While the kids give all kinds of them to me, there are feelings between a man and a woman that no family member can offer. I want those feelings. I need those feelings, and without them, I am just one heap of sludge. If the sludge doesn’t show, it is only because no one wants to see it. I am angry. I am oh so lonely. I miss Randy so much. I miss the talks, hugs, and even aggravation.

I am making it, but I am tired of trying. I am tired of never having down time. I am anything but energized and happy.  I find times that make me smile. Often I can hide how distraught I am by the whole ordeal. I can even keep trudging through, but how I would love to have some type of the peace that I long for. Just a few moments of an ant free house, no kids yelling, time to breathe and not have to clean house at the same time. I need a vacation from life, but I don’t know where to find one.

I am going to stop somewhere and take a break. I am going to smell the roses, I am going to breathe. I am going to catch up on everything I need to catch up on. I want to find myself …

I want to know who I am. Before I can find anyone that I want, or who will want me. I have to know what I want and who I am.  I have to know what I want and who I want. I have to find the laugh that I used to have and the time I used to have and the fun that I know that lies deep within me. I need that piece of me that calms me when the world is in complete chaos.

I need my life back. So, how do I do that?