I said these six words “I want my old life back” hundreds of times in the first year after Howie died. I didn’t want anything else – I just wanted to turn back time and have everything the way it used to be. Eventually I had to accept that this was not going to happen, so I changed my words to “I want the Brady Bunch”. If I couldn’t have the old life back, I wanted to find a widower with similar aged kids to mine. We would get married, all live together, have silly little problems that could be solved in 30 minutes and live happily ever after. I wanted to insert this person right into my old life. He would move to my town, become friends with all of my friends, my life would stay pretty much the same, and all would be ok.
I remember saying these things to my therapist at the time, not even wishing for it to happen, just assuming it would. Why wouldn’t it? I couldn’t have my husband back so this would be the next best thing, and I deserved that. My kids and I had been through so much, so this should be how our story should continue. But sadly, life does not always work that way, as she explained to me. She told me that I might not meet a widower, he might be divorced. He might not want to slide right into Howie’s place, he might have a life of his own with his own friends and family. Or I may not meet anyone in the near future that I would want to spend my life with. But she just didn’t understand, OF COURSE this was going to happen.
Guess who was right and who was wrong? It is five years later and we are not living the life of The Brady Bunch. My life is very different from Carol Brady’s and also very different from my old life. Different is not necessarily bad, just different. It turned out that although I thought I did, I didn’t really want to be in a serious relationship right away. I needed time to get my life together, and also to devote to my girls who really needed me. Now I am finally a little more settled into a new life, but it is of course not the way I assumed it would be.
Going through such a tragedy changes you, and it has changed me. I don’t think I could be that person that I was five years ago. That person was great – she was a great mom, great wife, great friend, she was happy, she had a really good life. I could have stayed like that forever and all would have been right with the world. But my husband died suddenly and like it or not, things had to change. About a year and a half ago I went back to work, which really does change things a lot. I am no longer that stay at home mom who lunches, goes to the gym and runs errands during the day. These are all things I now have to do on weekends and evenings. This makes my life so much busier. Plus I am a completely single mom and my girls crave and deserve more of my attention, which always comes first. I have my writing and my yoga which are both priorities in my life now. I have a boyfriend who is beyond understanding about the life I lead, and no – he was not just inserted into Howie’s place. I now know that would have been ridiculous and not fair to anyone. He has slowly come into my world, and I into his, and that works.
I like this new person I am becoming but it brings me to the question – where do I fit? My friends and family have stood by me and have been beyond supportive and I love them. This has not changed. But while my life has taken a huge turn, theirs have not. I no longer have the flexibility that I used to. I would love to meet for lunch on a Thursday afternoon or take a walk on a beautiful Monday morning but I cannot. My weekends are filled with groceries and other errands, and doing for my girls. Going out at night? I am so tired all I want to do is get in bed and watch my dvr. Vacations? I can’t always afford them. So other lives go on – lunches and dinners are eaten, vacations are taken, new friends are made, and it has become hard for me to be a part of that life now. Plus it still makes me sad to see what could have been if Howie was still here. I miss it, I truly do. But I am actually starting to love my new life also. I am torn between my two lives. I can’t have my old one back – but I would like to find a way for my two lives to become one. I am hoping that eventually this can be done.
I happen to love Thanksgiving. The thought behind it is so nice – giving thanks for what we have. The food is great. It is a time to be with family, dysfunctional or not. It is a holiday that is supposed to give you a warm feeling.
I will go back in time for a little history on my Thanksgivings. I don’t remember anything in particular about the holiday as I was growing up. I believe my mom usually made it at our house. We have a small family but they would all come to us. It was all perfectly nice, but what I remember most was being happy that we had 2 1/2 days off from school!
My most memorable Thanksgiving was when I was 25. I was working for Mattel and they had a “Barbie” float in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. That year I got to ride on it (no I was not Barbie)! They needed some girls to wear pink and sit on the float – perfect thing for me! It was so much fun and very exciting. We sat there and waved as we drove through the whole route. There were two things I remember most about that day. One was that it was freezing cold out! And two – that we were right behind the “Saved By the Bell” float and I got to meet Mario Lopez! That day is my claim to fame so I of course needed to write about it :).
Right after that Thanksgiving was when I met Howie – December 5th. After that, Thanksgiving became a little more challenging. Both of our mothers liked to make this holiday and of course they both wanted us to come to them. There were reasons why doing it all together did not work, one of which was distance. So Howie and I decided to switch off each year so they would each have us every other Thanksgiving. The arrangement worked but was stressful for us. We both alaways felt bad about the family we weren’t with. This situation might not have been the best but it was not the worst thng in the world so we did it for years, and for the most part all went well.
After Howie died, Thanksgiving became a depressing day for me. I hated it those first couple of years. I knew there was a chair missing and it made me sad. Holidays became a time when his absence almost screamed at me. I just missed him being there – I even missed him freaking out from the traffic! I remember one of those years sitting down to dinner and thinking that if someone asked us to say what we were thankful for I was going to punch them in the face! Thankful??? How could I ever be thankful again after what happened?? Luckily no one asked – I don’t know why I ever thought they would – family is smarter than that!
Three years ago I decided to try to make Thanksgiving a better day for myself and the girls. They wanted it to be in our house and I thought it was a great idea. It was much less stressful not to have to drive somewhere, and I actually like to cook. Anyone who wanted to come was welcome. I love having so many people in my house (although my dog doesn’t!). Getting ready for the holiday and cooking actually keep my mind busy so I don’t focus so much on what is missing. Amanda is sort of a “foodie” and she gets so involved with finding me recipes and making lists of ingredients. It is definitely a lot of work but the three of us try to have a good time with it. I feel like we have made a new tradition which I love. Even though I’m not in the parade!
So over the last few years I went from hating Thansgiving to loving it. I just had to change it and make it work better for myself. It will never be the same, as nothing will. But I figured out how to make it a good day and help the girls feel happy about it. This year I even have a new guest (and maybe a few more). There are many things in my life that I have to be thankful for and I am starting to realize that. But for anyone struggling with it being the first year or so after losing someone, I know this can be a very difficult time and it sucks. Just breathe and get through it as best you can – hopefully next year will be better.
Now I am hoping this will be the first year I can better handle all that comes with the month of December….
My 30th High School Reunion was two years ago. This means I graduated 32 years ago – ugh I’m old! I don’t know what made me think about it today but I did. Some people hate these reunions and don’t go. Some people are indifferent and also don’t go. Me – I love them! I missed my 10 year for a ridiculous reason and always regretted it. I went to my 20 year and had such a good time. Life was good then – I was married, had two young children, happy as can be. It was fun to see so many faces that I remembered while feeling so good about myself and my life.
Fast forward ten years to my 30th reunion. My life had changed quite a bit in those ten years. Howie had passed away three years earlier which turned my life upside down. I was doing ok two years ago but still not in the best place. There was some garbage in my life that I hadn’t gotten rid of yet. But as soon as I heard about the reunion I knew that I wanted to go. I thought it would be fun, especially if all of my high school friends were going. A bunch of us are still so close and I knew we would have a great time together!
We all spoke and pretty much were all able to go. The reunion was in a hotel so we decided to get a bunch of rooms and all stay over together. It was like Spring Break ’84 in Ft. Lauderdale! We got ready together and were running between our rooms to show our outfits and help each other. Then we walked down to the room where the reunion was. Before even walking in, I saw an old friend who I had stopped speaking to years ago – over some totally ridiculous thing! We get wiser with age – what had seemed so important back then seemed so silly now. She had sent me the sweetest email when she heard that Howie passed away and I was so happy to see her. The two of us stood outside talking for 10 minutes before we actually went inside. It was really nice. When I finally walked in – I saw people who I recognized immediately and some I felt like I had never seen before in my life! Little by little I saw friendly faces and spoke to so many. Some had heard about what happened to Howie and were all so nice about it, asking how the girls and I were doing. But what I really enjoyed was talking to those who did not know. Everyone in my everyday life knows that my husband died. But some of these people had no idea and spoke to me as if I was anyone else. They didn’t ask how I was doing with a sympathetic look or give me a sympathetic hug. Not that I don’t appreciate all that – I love that everyone is so caring. It was just nice to be the old me for a night – not the widow.
One moment I remember in particular. I was walking through a crowd and someone called my name and grabbed my arm. I turned and it was a guy that I was kind of friends with in high school – not great friends but we were friendly. I gave him a hug hello and we chatted for a few minutes. As I was walking away he said “You haven’t changed a bit. You were always smiling then and you still are now!”. I was so happy when he said that I could have cried! Me – always smiling?? At that point I felt like I had been miserable forever! But I guess that was how he remembered me. Not only did I love being remembered like that, I was thrilled that he thought I was still like that. He didn’t know about Howie and he didn’t see me as the widowed single mom raising two daughters alone. He saw the old Stacy who was happy and carefree. If I hadn’t been smiling already – that put a smile on my face for the rest of the night. I knew that if someone saw that happy person in me, she was still in there somewhere and could eventually come out again.
It really was a fun night for me. I loved seeing old friends and being there with my “girls” was great. After the reunion part was over, a bunch of us stayed by the hotel bar and just talked and laughed. Then back in our rooms we stayed up for hours doing more of the same. When I left the next morning I sort of felt like Cinderella the day after the ball. It was back to my regular life – but with a tiny bit more hope that maybe my world would brighten a bit and I could again be the girl who was always smiling 🙂
I have written a lot about how wonderful my friends and family are. Lately I have been thinking about this in broader terms – community. Something tragic happened in mine recently. Because of this tragedy, a friend commented to me “it is wonderful that we live in a community where there is so much support”. I couldn’t agree more. When something terrible happens, it seems that so many people step up and rally around the family. Having that support is so needed in the first few weeks.
I remember receiving a condolence card from a woman I knew. She was an acquaintance – I didn’t know her that well. She wrote in the card “this is such a tragedy that affects our whole community”. That was the first time I thought about it in those terms. Obviously it affected me, my girls, and our closest friends and family tremendously. But I later learned that it did affect others. A woman I know told me that she ran to an emergency appointment with her therapist because she was so upset. I heard that the middle school had an assembly with Amanda’s grade to explain to them what happened. And I know that Howie’s death frightened many people – they thought that if this could happen to our family, it could happen to theirs. I hope that maybe it had a positive affect on some. Maybe people went for check ups just because Howie’s death made them nervous. Our tragedy and others reach a much larger circle of people than I could have imagined.
When I think of a family having to go through such a loss, I now know that it takes it’s toll for a lot longer than those first few weeks. It can last for months or even years. Most people probably don’t think of this – the community rallies – it affects so many – and then it dies down. When it hasn’t happened to you, it is easy to pay your condolences and go on with your life. There is nothing wrong with that. I understand that life goes on. But as a community we should realize that those affected might need support for longer than a few weeks. Maybe try to think of that family in three months and see if they need anything. Or reach out during a holiday (holidays can be very hard) to see if they are ok. Or just send a little note through FB and say you are still thinking of them. It can really mean a lot.
I obviously don’t know all. I just know my situation. I know that it meant so much to me to have hundreds around in the beginning. But it also still means a lot when I get a message five years later from someone I haven’t spoken to in years just to say that I am in their thoughts. So once in a while let someone know that you get it – that life does go on but you are thinking of them and always wishing them well. A community of caring is important always.
Most everything about being a widow/widower is horrible. There really isn’t anything good about it. But sometimes I think it is ok to use yout horrible situation to your advantage. We deserve a little break sometimes….
Hmmmm when I started making this list I was hoping to get to ten. I am dead stopped at five. Not the longest list in the world. It’s hard to try to turn this kind of situation into something positive but I tried! I hope someone can use one of these to brighten their day a little. Every tiny bit helps!