Dating…Again

Being alone was hard for me. Really hard. Raising three grieving children on my own, between a criminal proceeding for my husband’s death, fighting insurance to pay the bills they were responsible for, and dealing with my grief all at the same time was a challenge. To say the least. My counseling, volunteering, and exercising helped release some of the anxiety, but none of it made me less mentally exhausted. None of that provided the type of loving hand I really needed.

I was tired of doing it all myself. I felt nearly defeated. I felt like I wasn’t sure how long I could do it all by myself. And, of course, when I say by myself I mean with the help of everyone I knew because no one can do that all completely by themselves. Even all of that help doesn’t replace the deep intimate friendship that one shares with a partner or spouse.

I had developed two close friendships after Randy’s death. I spent most of my time with these ladies. When we were together, we also were together with our ten collective children. That’s a lot of kids. I loved the time playing games and letting the kids be kids. It was chaotic and loud, but nice to see everyone laughing and indulging in a little laughter myself. The new friends would ask me if I ever thought I would find another soul mate. We talked about it often. It’s hard for your friends to see you without something they think is so normal, and maybe even view it as necessary. Eventually, I did feel ready. I also felt a little guilty.

It had only been about 7 months since Randy died. I wasn’t ready to get married, but I was ready to enter the world and start making new connections. I really struggled with the guilt. How could I claim to love someone so much, but then dump all over his memory by craving another relationship? Maybe this is a justification to make me feel better, but my conclusion was it was because we were so close that made me want to get out and meet more people. Randy and I had a very intense relationship. He was my first. We learned a lot together, we grew up together. We started dating when I was 15 and he was 16 years old. He was killed just after his 26th birthday and I had just turned 25. Ten years is a long time. Especially during a time when you are learning who you are and what the world is really about. We did all of that together.

Now, it wasn’t always pretty, but even the worst storms can have beauty. Our relationship was beautiful. We slept intertwined every single night, when he was home and not working. It never got old. Even when we weren’t getting along, I didn’t know how to be without him. So, when I had no choice, but to be alone, I felt lost. Maybe that is rationalization and maybe it’s the wrong reason to start dating–whatever it is, it is the truth.

I told my friends I thought I wanted to meet someone. I was terrified! I had all the same questions my friends did. I never understood why someone as handsome and well like as Randy wanted to be with a slob like me, could I really get that lucky twice? On top of being just an average girl, now I was an average girl with a scarred heart and three children. What dummy would get involved with that? There was only one way to find out. Jump in.

My girl friend, V, wasn’t wasting any time finding out. She immediately went on the hunt. She left notes for a friend of a neighbor, who was a firefighter, and she left  a package for me at one of my neighbors so I had to go to his house when he was home to retrieve it. Ah, matchmaking at it’s finest. I was completely embarrassed and thrilled at the same time. Neither of her plans seemed to be working, so I joined Match.com.

I had no intention of finding Mr. Right. I just wanted to escape reality a bit and maybe feel a spark again. I met a couple of people from Match.com. Neither worked out. It felt a little creepy and it definitely felt wrong. They agreed.

One day, V decided I should meet the neighbors with the firefighter friend. The fact he didn’t respond to her note wasn’t enough, she had to completely throw me out there for humiliation. The neighbor, M, and V came up with a plan for me and the firighter to meet.  M held a little party, which I found out later was common for her house. Mr. firefighter and me met, along with my kids. I figured if that didn’t scare him, not much would. After a little while, the kids went home with V and left me there to fend for myself with a bunch of people who seemed friendly enough, but were still strangers.

I wasn’t sure what to think about firefighter. He seemed to drink a lot and every other word out of his mouth was the f-bomb. He seemed rougher around the edges than I really wanted, or needed. He seemed very uninterested too. For the next week, they invited me over all the time, and I went often. Sometimes with the kids, but usually they stayed with V.  I came to see that firefighter wasn’t all bad, he was growing on me. I can’t say he felt the same way. He kept his distance. Even though he had my number and we had been around each other, he seemed rather preoccupied. Finally, I overheard him and another party goer talking about this girl he was ‘trying to get with’. The girl wasn’t me. Ah. It all made sense. He was acting uninterested because he was.

The next weekend was my birthday. Which, is also always the weekend of our hometown carnival. Friday night, I went for a few hours just to see people. I felt so out of my element. I left early because it felt a little strange. These were people I was always with when Randy and I were together, and now here I was, single. I decided it was my birthday weekend and I was going to figure out how to have fun again. I was all in the mood to go for it–anything. I decided I was going to get myself ready, hit M’s house for a minute or two, and then head to town and see who I could see. I was going to go to the carnival and then the bar. I just wanted to see people.

My mom had watched the kids Friday night, after birthday celebrations with family. V had offered to watch them on Saturday for me. They could just stay the night. What a deal! I wanted to go to the local store for a drink before heading to M’s to hang out. On my way out of the street, I saw firefighter who stopped.

” Where are you going?”

“To the store for a Pepsi. Why?”

“I was just curious. I thought you would be at M’s.”

“Well, that is where I am going after I get a drink, but only for a minute and then I’m going out.”

“Where?”

“To town. Gonna see who I can see.”

“What the F***? You aren’t going to invite me?”

“Uh, you have had my number for months now, haven’t used it. Why on earth would I ever think to invite you?”

“Well, you could have called me.”

“No. I couldn’t have. And even if I did have your number, why would I call if you so clearly aren’t interested?”

“Well, the road goes both ways.”

“Hm. No. If you wanted to call you would have. Are you saying you want to go or what?”

“Well, maybe, where ya going?”

“Homecoming, bars, and who knows?”

“Well, I don’t want to go to a bar, but I’d go to the movies.”

“The movies? I don’t know. I really wanted to go out. We’ll see. I’ll see ya back at M’s”

I got my Pepsi and went back to M’s. For some reason, they all decided to play wiffleball. So, all the time I wasted looking nice was ruined by sweat. I guess the movies were looking better.  The game was over. I hear firefighter say, “You coming to my house while I shower or am I coming back here?” Of course the room was filled with ‘ooooooo’s.

“I’ll go with”

He paid for the movie, as a birthday present. We saw Spiderman. After the movies, we went back to M’s. Everyone was playing Euchre in the garage. About 2am, people started talking about being tired. Tired? It was my birthday. I was having fun and all the sudden starving. I tried to talk firefighter into going back to town and getting a burger and a piece of cheesecake. He was smiling, but telling me no. It didn’t sound or look like a firm ‘no’. I figured I could win this one…and I did. He said, he’d do it on one condition, we go back to his house and I would massage his back. Eh, whatever. I was in.

We had a lot of fun. When we got back to his house, I was thinking I was crazy. Unlike other dates, I hadn’t felt creeped out. Maybe because I knew we were just friends. He was into someone else. When we got to his house, we went to the bed, where I massaged and scratched his back for an hour. It was 5am. I knew if I didn’t go home and get in bed soon, I’d wake up there in the morning. Or, he would try something that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for. I left, happy.

Monday, me and firefighters friend, MM, who did like me, took the kids to 6 flags. We were just hanging out as friends. He loved 6 flags and I figured the kids would too. While we were there, my phone rings, it was firefighter. I figured he was calling to talk to MM, but being me, I played it up.  I answered the call with, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist me.” All I heard was laughter. I waited to see how he would answer.

“Actually, I wanted to talk to MM.”

Now, I laughed, “Oh, okay then. I see how it is. Too bad I bought you something today, because I am nice, unlike you.” It was flirting at it’s best.

“Really, okay. Should I come over after work?”

“If you want to, it isn’t a big deal. I was just messing with you.”

“I’ll be there about 11pm if that’s okay.”

“Yup. See ya then. Here’s MM.”

We were friends for months after that day. I quickly learned that f-bomb, bar hopping man was really just a lonely guy trying to be with people. He was a soft-hearted, caring, and loving man. I told him it was okay if he wasn’t interested, but we had to figure it out. We talked about the other girl and where he stood. I even helped him work on their relationship. I didn’t ever want him to wonder ‘what if’. One day I bought him a bear and told him I was falling.

My friends thought I was crazy. The truth was, I had no hold on him, no reason to be angry. And, to be real honest, I didn’t need anyone. Certainly didn’t need someone for the sake of saying I had someone. I wanted someone who really wanted to be with me and no one else. Eventually, that girl ruined it all and we both were okay with that. I did encouraged him to be friends with her because I felt like she really needed one.

That firefighter is now my best friend and husband, Tim. We rarely go out and when we do, it’s to a movie or the occasional get together. He doesn’t drop f-bombs every other word anymore and he is a great dad, to all of the kids.

I guess my friend, V, was right. He was a good catch. We have been married 8.5 years now. He has supported me through the anniversary of Randy’s death and birthday, school, two pregnancies, and now through taking care of our own family and my grandparents. I can’t imagine not having him in my life. And, now, over a decade later, I can answer my friends’ question: Yes, love can strike twice. You can find a second soul mate.

Helping the Wounded.

It occurred to me last night, I have spent a few articles discussing how hard it is to hear ‘comforting’ words from others. It’s hard to hear because we all know there is nothing that can make a fresh wound hurt less. Often those words of comfort stab like knives instead. How do we, as widows, expect something different? Just like there is no guide-book for widows, there has been no etiquette book on how to be a good support system for a widow.

This website has been my attempt to fix both of those problems. This is not a memoir blog. It is more self-help. I used my story as an example so you can see how it affected my life and what I did.  Hearing information from someone who has been there is a big help. Up to this point, I haven’t discussed anything about a widow support system, other than from the widow’s perspective.

This article is my attempt to remedy that neglect. If you are part of a support system, watching a loved one or friend go through the most challenging storm of his or her life, this article is for you. Helping the wounded just isn’t easy. I have no hard proof that these ideas will work for whomever you are helping. I can say this is what I needed (and got most of the time because I wasn’t afraid to ask for it). When I got the support the way I needed it, my days were much easier. Lord knows I needed all the ‘easy’ I could get in those first months, even years.

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How do you help the wounded?

There are probably a million self-help books out there, maybe more. Many of those deal with grief, some probably even deal with how to help someone who is grieving. Maybe those books were written by widows or widowers, however, I would venture to guess most were written by professionals. Professionals who know what the textbooks say and what clients have said, but maybe no real experiences of their own. Everyone experiences grief at some point, so they might even have some personal experience. Most of those professionals probably do not speak from experience as a widow or widower.

To be perfectly honest, I bought close to a dozen books for widows in those first few months. I figured something had to be in there for me. I rarely got past the first chapter. I was either sobbing so hard I couldn’t keep reading or the book didn’t apply to me at all. So, technically, I have no idea what is in those books. I know what I think, what I learned from experience, and what a college education in social work taught me. And, that’s all I know about being a widow or  helping a widow.  This article, is from the heart. Some of it might match up to other things you have read and other pieces might not.  If you want a professional opinion, you probably should buy one of those books. If you want to know what another widow thought, then keep reading this and when I publish my book I will let you know so you can read that, too.

Being a widow is hard, so is being support for a widow. Maybe it’s just as hard, in different ways. Just as hard because it is almost harder to watch someone you love hurt so badly and be unable to fix the problem than it is to go through it yourself. Harder because your life goes on while your friend or family member is still reeling through their grief. There is a disconnect that you can’t overcome, no matter how hard you try.

I remember reading in a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul. An excerpt is as follows:

“Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentlemen’s yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”    (Ellen Kreidman)

That speaks to the exact essence of how to help someone who is wounded on the inside. If I made a list of the things I would have appreciated as a new(er) widow it would be this list:

1. If your friend or loved one doesnt answer, go away.
Grieving people have a lot on their mind and on their heart. Especially the first few months. Chances are, it’s stuff you can’t understand. It’s probably true that they aren’t depressed and they aren’t going to hurt themselves. They are grieving. They just want to cry in peace. They didn’t answer becasue they just want to be alone today. Tomorrow might be different. They want to stare at a blank wall and hold something that smells like their spouse, or reminds me of their child, or makes them remember the cookies grandma made. That’s okay. They hurt so bad they hear their stomachs grumble and they don’t care. That hunger pain is nothing compared to what is in their heart. Even eating a meal is hard to do, a reminder of what you are missing.

You can’t move around grief, a person just has to go through it. Part of going through it is hurting. People don’t usually want to hurt in front of people. They hold back and refrain from what’s really on their mind. Eventually, slowly, they will be ready to see people. If you insist on talking or insist on seeing them, they probably will oblige you, but don’t expect great company.
What can you do?
Do call, do email, do send notes. If they answer, fantastic (see #2). If they don’t answer the phone leave them a voicemail. Don’t leave 5 or 10 a day, but try to make contact a couple times a week. I promise, they will get the note off the door, they will go to the mailbox (maybe), and they will listen to the voicemail. Then, they will probably go back to staring, crying, and thinking. One day, they probably will answer the phone or answer the email. Maybe, if it makes you feel better, drop a few sandwiches or a small meal by the house, just in case. If you do insist on seeing them, please don’t over-stay. Tell them you love them, give them a hug or a nice touch on the arm, and leave, unless they ask you sincerely to stay.

2. Listen or cry, whatever they want you to do.
When you do see your loved one or friend, inevitably you will ask them how they are doing or how they feel. It’s something we just ask as habit. You might really want to know the answer. Be careful, though. I have found so many times what people really want to hear is that the friend is healing nicely and feeling better, but that may not be what you hear. Instead you might hear some unintelligible words through tears about how awful life is. You might hear nothing, but silence.

If your friend wants to talk about it, listen. Don’t one up them. They really and truly do not care how poorly your aunt Beverly handled your uncle George’s death. Not because they don’t care…no, it is because they don’t care. At least they don’t care right now. A few months from now or a year, they probably would find the story interesting and might even have questions about what she did to feel better. Just listen. If they cry, listen.

Don’t dismiss their feelings. When you say things like, “God has an angel” or “It will all work out” or “God’s will, God’s time” or “He/she fought the good fight” or any other feel good phrase you can think of, it is aggravating. Sometimes it is maddening. Nothing feels good and I can almost guarantee you, your friend can’t imagine how they are going to make it through tomorrow. A year or five is no where on their mental map.

Don’t go on about how wonderful your life is or how great the kids are, or even how insensitive your husband/wife is. It’s all an effort to help them forget about their problems or to show them life goes on, or whatever reason you have, but it isn’t helpful. Whatever the reason, it’s because you care. There is an awkwardness when someone is hurting so bad. Please know, that awkwardness is just your feelings. They are hurting, they don’t notice how awkward it might be. Your friend might make polite conversation, please keep your answers brief.

What you can do:
LISTEN. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, it’s okay. Let your friend or loved one do as they need to. It makes a person uncomfortable to watch someone cry. We feel the need to make it all better, to cover it up, and to push it away. That almost makes the person who is hurting feel like their pain doesn’t matter. Sometimes it can make them feel like their pain is abnormal. I know that isn’t what you want them to feel. You love them and want them to feel better. You can’t make that happen for them, no matter how much you want it. If only it were that easy.

3. Offer to help or just do it.
I know this seems to contradict what I said earlier (just go away), but sometimes, especially when there are younger children, stepping in might prove helpful.

It’s hard for a new widow to get off the couch, but there are things that have to be done, like meals for kids, laundry, groceries, etc. If you ask, your friend or loved one might tell you no. Again, they want to handle it all themselves, yet they might appreciate if you just step in to help.

What you can do.
If people asked me if I wanted meals or for them to bring the kids home, I often told them no. If they said, “I made an extra meal for you, when could I bring it over?” I was more inclined to accept it and appreciate the fact they did it. Or, if they said, “I’m taking Billy to church tonight, could I pick up your kids and take them with us? Billy would love it.” I appreciated the effort to do something for the kids and the time to just cry. The kids loved it too. The way you approach makes a difference. Make it an offer they can’t refuse instead of a pity party.

4. Remember, your timetable isn’t necessarily their timetable.
Your life has probably moved on. It might even seem like your friend’s life has moved on. The difference is, your life really has move on and your friend is doing the best they can to make it look like theirs has too. When you are grieving a loss, it is hard to watch people several months after. Their lives are normal. Suzy goes to soccer and Ben attends his guitar lessons and people quit offering help. They avoid you to keep from talking about it. They just want to go to lunch or  a movie. They want to talk about kids and work, not how life is still hard for the grieving. The widow or grieving friend probably isn’t ready to do that yet. Don’t let the fact he/she is willing to leave the house make you believe they have healed. There is still a lot of re-building in front of them to get through–years of rebuilding to go. Don’t hurry them to get with the program or suggest it is time to ‘join the living’. That would be hurtful.

On the other hand, maybe it seems like they are doing fine and have moved forward too fast. It might even seem like they didn’t take time to grieve. Please remember, it is their timetable. They know what they need to do, you probably don’t. Maybe they didn’t grieve completely. Maybe it hurts too bad to do it right now, so they are avoiding it. Just keep being a friend/loved one and encouraging them. Hopefully, they will figure it out on their own. If they don’t, ask them.

What can you do?
Be sensitive. Remember the loss they suffered. Remember how much it changed their lives. Remember they might still be struggling to get laundry done, bills paid, and kids taken care of because grief really is the one still in charge. Still offer to do things for the kids. Suggestions for your friend might be heard now, so gently suggest opportunities or ideas. Your friend or loved one might be willing to listen now. Also, inviting your friend out to do something besides think about grieving or taking care of someone might be a welcomed change. If the offer isn’t accepted this time, try again in a month or so.

Summary.
Use sensitivity without patronizing your friend or loved one. Remember that their view point is not the same as yours. it may feel like you have the answers, but you might not. And above all, remember this journey is about them. What they need, what they want, and on their time schedule. They may not know what they need or want yet. That is okay. It will come. If you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, confused, or uncomfortable, just imagine what  your friend or loved one is feeling like.

Give them space, time, and plenty of love and support. They will love you for it.