This post was written by my very first guest writer, Ilyssa Rudman. She is the fabulous daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Ilyssa is beginning her senior year at Syracuse University and is on her way to becoming an amazing writer. I asked her to write a piece for my blog and was thrilled when she happily agreed. She wrote the following open letter to my daughter, Amanda, as well as all incoming college freshmen who are experiencing anxiety. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did….
You know your mom’s friends from growing up that you never really knew but you feel some sort of connection with? That’s who Stacy is to me. She once left her shampoo in my shower and her dress in my house – so duh; we’re connected on a level no one can understand. I don’t really know her daughters all that well either, but they are Stacy’s daughters so I’d basically do anything for them – as if they were family… Because they kind of are.
I cannot speak to losing a husband or a parent, as that is something that I have fortunately never experienced myself, but my heart hurts for them every day. I admire that Stacy has used writing as an outlet and I have a great respect for the ways that each of them has handled themselves after experiencing such a tragedy.
Something that I can speak to is the common enemy that Amanda and I have: anxiety. I know through both Stacy’s blog and what my mom has shared with me that Amanda is very anxious about going off to college as a freshman. I also know that I felt the same exact way four years ago, and as I am about to enter my Senior year I wish more than anything that I could go back to the very spot that Amanda is in right now. So here is an open letter to Amanda and anyone else that is in her position. From one anxious mind to another…
Dear Amanda (and anyone else who can relate),
Going away to college is extremely scary for everyone. To someone with an anxiety disorder though, it is literally PETRIFYING. I want to start off by saying that this is a good thing. Not only is it a good thing, it is a GREAT thing. You are about to enter the best four years of your life. I know that is super cliché and you have probably heard it a million and one times, but take it from me – an anxiety ridden about to be senior in college who would pay to trade places with you.
The last thing anyone with anxiety wants is change. But flip that negative perception of change that you have onto its head – and focus on the positives that are coming your way. You are about to make new friends. Not the high school friends that you associate with because you’re from the same town, but people who you are drawn to and truly connect with.
I personally had trouble talking about my anxiety throughout high school. In fact, I don’t know if my friends knew the severity of it back then, when it was the most severe it’s ever been. Now here I am writing about it for everyone to see.
I opened up about my anxiety to my college friends, and that ability to truly let people in has helped me grow closer to my high school friends as well. I have found a support system in both the friends I have made in college and the ones that I grew up going to school with, and I am confident that you will find the same.
Most importantly, I learned that there are tons of people around me who feel the exact same way that I do and silently suffer. You are not alone, ever.
Another aspect of going away to college that racked my nerves like no other was the idea of being “stuck” away from home. But let me give it to you straight – you are nowhere near stuck. If for any reason you want to go home at any time, it is well within your power to do so. I used to go home all the time – whether it was for a prior commitment or simply because I wanted the comfort of my own bed. As time went by, school became like a home to me. I know that you will soon feel the same way, but just remember that you are NOT stuck.
Lastly, I want to remind you that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. It is inevitable that this transition comes with anxiety. Do whatever it is that you feel you need to do to stay calm and centered. Get a really comfy mattress cover and a fuzzy blanket and make your bed at school feel like home.
You may not feel like you are ready, but I know that you are.
With love and lots of luck (that you do not even need),
And to Stacy, and any other mom who is anxious about their anxious child going off to college (moms get anxiety too!) – trust me when I say that they will be more than fine. I have been there and back. Amanda is strong as she has a very strong role model in her mom. Deep breaths ladies, it is going to be okay.
I have been joking around with my friends and family about this for months. I have been talking about these next few weeks which are quickly approaching for my girls and I. The thing is – I don’t think I believed that this time would ever really arrive – but now it’s just about here – and it’s not so funny anymore.
For the months (even years) after Howie passed away, I would wake up with my heart racing. I did not know what each day would bring, but whatever it was scared me. That has not happened for a year or so. My life had finally settled and quieted down. It is so nice to be in a good place and not stress about anything too major.
Don’t get me wrong – nothing horrible is happening now. Life is what’s happening, and with life comes change. Change can be good, but change can also be stressful, especially for my girls and I. We had one very huge change almost six years ago, and it was the worst one imaginable. It is hard to see change as simple for all of us.
Two things are about to happen.
The first is that Lily is about to come home from her very last year at her beloved sleep-away camp. This might sound silly to some – but I am actually scared. She has been so lucky to go to the place that she loves for seven weeks every summer for eight years. Camp is truly her second home, and the friends she has made there are her second family. These summers have helped her deal with her loss, as well as maturing into the wonderful person she is becoming. It has been her “escape” from the stresses of her regular life. Now, at 16 years old, she has “aged-out” and will no longer be able to go back to her camp and live in a bunk with the girls that she loves.
I have been warned – by Lily as well as other parents whose children have gone through this transition. I am expecting a lot of tears, a lot of time spent in her room, and a lot of moodiness. While my mind is prepared, my heart will break a little to see her lose something so important to her. It will truly be a huge loss for her.
At the same time this is happening, Amanda is preparing to leave for her Freshman year at college. Amanda suffers from anxiety and fears change. I have written about this in relation to her going away to college in my Grown & Flown article. Leaving for college is a scary time for many kids, but for someone with anxiety it can be debilitating. Thankfully, we have known this, and have prepared her in the best way possible. I know she will do great and be just fine (even better than fine) once she makes the transition, but I know the transition will be scary for her. I have the utmost confidence in her and am so proud of how far she has come in the last few years. But I am her mother – I worry – and more so than that, I will miss her terribly. Change is hard for me also.
Lily will be home in a few short days, and Amanda will be leaving less than two weeks after that. So, their mom is stressed for them. I am now waking up with the racing heart and the nervousness all day that I haven’t felt in years. But as difficult and crazy as the last few years of my life have been, I have learned ways to cope with my own stress. I am trying my best to get through this time that I never thought would really arrive. The one thing I know is that we will all be okay.
People always ask each other, “How does it feel to turn 50? Or 40? Or 30?” No one really asks about turning 51, or any age that is not a “milestone”.
I was perfectly happy turning 30 – life was good – newly married and looking forward to the future.
Turning 40 wasn’t bad either – happily married with two beautiful daughters.
I cried when I turned 45. Oddly, I had no idea why I was crying. I now think that I may have had some kind of premonition of what was coming.
Two months after my 45th birthday, my husband died unexpectedly. The next 4 – 5 years were the most difficult of my life. It is beyond challenging to become a single mom and keep everything together while both you and your children are grieving. I was very unhappy for a long time.
Last week was my 51st. Five days after my birthday, I received a “Happy Anniversary” message from Word Press. I had started my blog one year ago. Both of these days are huge milestones for me.
A few months before my 50th birthday, I felt like I was finally beginning to recover. I began to feel like a “person” again and not just a “widow”. I also felt that there was somewhat of a “new me” emerging and that I was going to be slightly different moving forward.
My now teenage daughters were both in a good place which is always the most important thing to me.
Around this time I found myself in a new relationship – a good one, and that made me happy.
My 50th birthday was a pleasant one. No huge party, I was just happy being with the people closest to me. I wasn’t obsessing about getting older. I was looking forward to a better time in my life, possibly some kind of new chapter. At that point, I had no idea exactly what a new chapter meant for me. I just felt that a change was happening, and that I was no longer stuck.
Five days after my 50th, I suddenly decided to start a blog. I did not know much about blogging, so I did what anyone would do – I googled it. Then I closed my eyes, hit “publish”, and hoped for the best.
This was what changed my life. People actually read my blog and the feedback was incredible. I could write.
I had pretty much gone through 50 years without ever finding a “thing” that I excelled at. I was always terrible at sports, my grades in school were good but never spectacular, I couldn’t dance or sing, I was not an artist, I can barely swim to save my life, no amazing sense of fashion. I was always just me, happy with myself, but nothing “stood out”.
At 50 years old I finally found it – my “thing” was writing. I began to write non-stop. Not just for my blog, but all kinds of websites began to publish my work. This was so exciting for me. Every time my work was accepted somewhere, I felt this huge sense of accomplishment.
In a roundabout way through my writing, I began taking yoga classes. It was something brand new for me, but after a small amount of time, I fell in love with it. My intenion in starting yoga was to do something good for my body. Not only did yoga help accomplish this, it has become an unbelievable tool for my mind. Yoga has taught me how to let go of some of the anger I had towards my situation. It has truly helped me to become a better peron. With this, my new relationship has also been able to develop in a wonderful way.
A year has quickly passed and I am now 51. I was sad to see 50 go, not because I am getting older, but because my 50th year was an incredible journey. While I am still the same person, I have become a much better version of myself. I am much stronger and more self confident, while I also believe that I have become a kinder person who truly wants to help others.
The one thing that I wish is that my husband was here to see the “new me”. Sometimes I’m not sure he would even recognize this new version of me. I do like to believe that he can see the girls and I somehow. That he smiles when we are doing well, and that he is happy that I was able to finally move forward.
With a little luck, I hope that my positive journey continues in my 51st year.
I finally finished the dishes. The kitchen was clean. My extended family had left my house and my kids had retreated to their rooms. I was exhausted from cooking, serving and cleaning up, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I host Mother’s Day every year and I love doing it. It is a lot of work but it is always such a nice day. I am happy to celebrate being a mom to my two fantastic teenage daughters.
Now that Mother’s Day is over, I dread what comes next: Father’s Day is in just a few weeks. My husband passed away five years ago, and since then it has become the most hated day of the year for my children and me.
All three of us are doing well now, but there are many very difficult days each year – his birthday, the anniversary of his death, my wedding anniversary – these are days that we think about him a little bit more, wishing that he was here with us. Father’s Day is the worst one of all.
We know the significance of those other difficult days, but the rest of the world does not. My girls and I, sometimes along with friends and family, recognize those days as we wish: a special dinner, visiting the cemetery, or even just taking the day for ourselves to remember him. It is never easy, but we have learned how to best get through it.
Father’s Day is a very different day. It is everywhere and we cannot get away from it no matter what we do. I put on the television and there it is – never ending ads for Father’s Day gifts. Every talk show constantly gives advice on how to make Dad’s day special – from the best presents, to barbecue and baking ideas – they talk about it all.
The hardest thing, especially for my daughters, is social media. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, our newsfeeds are inundated with Father’s Day messages and pictures. While it is so nice to celebrate the dad in your life, it can be hard for those who are not as fortunate. This also goes for those who find Mother’s Day difficult.
Over the years we have tried many ways to spend this day. We have spent it with family, with friends, or just the three of us at a restaurant. None of these things have been enjoyable. All that we feel is the huge void in our family.
As this dreaded day approaches this year, someone very close to me said that my girls “should be used to it by now”. My response was, “it is something you never get used to”.
I have a friend who lost her father when she was 12. This friend is now a married mother of two and she still finds Father’s Day difficult. I am sure my girls will always feel the same way.
You cannot possibly get used to losing your father at a young age. This is a devastating loss that my daughters will carry with them through their whole lives. After a lot of trial and error, we have learned that we need to do what feels right and what works for us on Father’s Day. It does not matter what we “should” do or what anyone wants us to do.
Everyone handles loss in their own way. We all have good days and bad days. Some may choose to spend a day such as Father’s Day amongst family and friends. My girls and I have found doing that too difficult.
Father’s Day in our house will be celebrated much differently that Mother’s Day was. There will no big celebration with family. If anyone is looking for me or my girls on Sunday, June 18, you will not find us on social media, or at a barbecue, or in a restaurant. You will probably find the three of us cuddling on the couch while watching Netflix. The only person who might see us is the pizza delivery guy. We will keep breathing until the day is over and we can start the new week on Monday.
Today is March 27th. It would have been Howie’s 54th birthday.
This is the first March 27th since I began writing.
I often wonder what Howie would think of all this. I, of course, hope he would be proud that I am achieving some level of success with it.
But, let’s face it, I knew my husband. What he probably would have said is “Peanut, are you kidding me? If you’re going to start a new career, can you start one where you at least make some money??”.
I am sure that anyone who knew him is laughing right now because they can hear him saying this 🙂
There are many times when I need to make a decision on my own, and I think to myself, “What would Howie have done?”.
Sometimes these questions concern me personally, but most of the time they are decisions about our girls.
What would he have told Amanda about choosing a college?
How would he have helped Lily when she gets so stressed about her schoolwork?
What would he have done every morning when they fight about what time to leave for school?
Oops I forgot – he never would have heard those fights in the morning – he would have been fast asleep!
One thing I know he would be proud of – how far each of our daughters have come, and what great people they are becoming in spite of what happened to them. I know I am.
Strangely, I have felt his presence a little more in the past few weeks, possibly because his birthday was coming up. I hope this means he is happy about how we are all doing.
He is missed every day by all three of us. I wonder all the time what life would be like if he was still here. I hope he somehow knows that we try to honor him as best we can as often as we can.
My in-laws came over for brunch the other day. As happens often when we are with them, the conversation turned to Howie. His parents talk about when he was a child, my girls talk about him as a dad, and I usually end up telling stories from when we were dating or newly married.
This does not make any of us sad. I know for my girls, it makes them happy. They both laugh when we talk about the silly things he used to do, and it is so nice for them to remember what a great father he was.
I remember talking with a woman in the first few months after Howie died. She had lost her father at a young age, and sadly, years later also lost her husband. She told me that she was only seven years old when her dad died, and that her mother remarried a few years later. She then said that her stepfather would not allow pictures of her father in the house. Granted, when she was a child it was a different time, she is probably 20 years older than I am. Even so, I remember looking at her in disbelief.
She believed that because of not seeing those pictures, plus not speaking of her dad that often, she had a hard time remembering him. I am sure that she was correct.
My girls were young when Howie died, especially Lily who was only 10. I want their memories of him to be as vivid as possible. I still have many family pictures up in our house. I also have boxes and boxes of pictures put away, which they do look at often.
His name and stories about him come up in conversation all the time, not just with my in-laws. I am always telling them which traits of theirs came from him. Lily looks exactly like him, and Amanda has more of his personality.
They are smart girls and they know how to use this against me. I get mad when they are messy, or complain too much, among other things. They always come back with “I got that from Daddy”. They think it will soften me. I have to admit, sometimes it does.
I believe it is so important for all of us to keep his memory alive. The more we talk, the more we seem to remember. My father in law mentioned the name of a candy store by his office the other day. Howie used to bring me the best chocolate from there for any special occasion. I hadn’t thought about it in years. The minute he said it, tons of memories came back, along with wanting the candy! It was nice for thoughts to come up that hadn’t been on my mind for so long.
Memories can keep someone a part of you after they are gone. As time goes on and they are no longer in every thought, it is nice to keep a place in your mind for them. I hope that my girls can always hold on to special memories of their father. He will always be a part of all of us.
I walked through the glass doors of my office. I went straight into the kitchen to put my yogurt in the refrigerator. I looked down at my hand and it wasn’t there. I carry a red Lululemon bag with my yogurt, granola bar, and and a few other things that I bring to eat at work every day. It was not hanging off my arm like it usually was.
I thought I had it with me but I must have left it in my car. I ran down the three flights of stairs and out into the freezing cold and looked inside my car. It wasn’t there either. I jumped into the driver’s seat and drove the five minute commute back to my house. I need food during the day or I don’t function well.
I ran into my house and there it was on my kitchen counter – my red bag. I totally thought I had taken it.
I know what you’re thinking – we all do that. We misplace our keys, look for our phones while they are in our hands, and sunglasses that are on our heads. I’m not unusual.
For me it is not just those typical things.
My boyfriend tells me that we have spoken about something that I just cannot remember. My boss asks if I had taken care of something 24 hours earlier, and I have to think for a minute whether I did or not (thankfully I write everything down). Friends call me and I don’t remember to call back. I have a very hard time multi-tasking.
No, I don’t think I have some dreaded disease (I will not allow my mind to wander like that).
What I do think I have is memory loss due to grief. I have read articles on it and they all say the same thing. It is very common. Going through a tragedy and grieving can affect your short term memory. They say it can last up to a few years.
In the beginning, I did not know that this was typical. My brain did not seem to be working the way it used to, and that was scary. I didn’t understand it. But I knew that I had so much on my mind that it was difficult to keep it all straight.
I am past the five year mark, and no longer in the grieving stage. My memory has come back to some extent over the last few years, but I am still quite forgetful. Those who know me best will say that I have always been a little scattered (don’t think I don’t know that you say it behind my back :)-) . I admit that they are partially correct. But during those first few years I couldn’t keep anything straight. Right now I still think my memory is worse than it was before Howie died.
It is comforting to know that I am not alone. That others have felt this, and still feel it. I wanted to share my experience in the hopes of bringing comfort to someone else who may be feeling this. You are not going crazy. It happens to many of us.
If the worst thing is having to drive back home for my yogurt – I’ll take it.
Last Sunday I picked Lily up from a camp friend’s house 20 minutes away. The night before, I drove her to a different friend an hour away. After I dropped her off at home, I went to Shop Rite, which took me over an hour. Shop Rite by me on a Sunday is a little like an insane asylum. Every time I make it through, I feel as if I’ve been through a war. I came home, put away the packages, and walked the dog. All of this took up more than half of my day.
Two things happened after that.
First, Amanda had made herself pasta while I was gone. Now I believe she may have thought that she cleaned up. But Amanda’s version of cleaning up is putting her dirty bowl (with food in it) and the strainer in the sink. Not the dishwasher, the sink. There was a dirty pot and an empty box of pasta on the counter, and she would never think to wipe down anything.
Right after I saw this, Lily asked me if I had bought the ingredients to make her the potato latkes I promised her over Hanukkah a month earlier but never made. Mind you, it’s not as if the poor deprived child did not have any potato latkes over Hanukkah. My mother in law made us delicious ones on the first night. But she wanted me to make them. When I told her that I had forgotten about them and I was exhausted from running around all day, she got very upset with me.
I thought about all of this for a few minutes.
Right after Howie died, I made a promise to myself. I swore that I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my girls did not always feel like they only had one parent. I would drive them around as much as possible when they needed me to. I would make dinners – I did not want to be the mom that made frozen pizzas and ate over the sink every night. I would be as involved in their lives as much as they would allow me to be. I would do whatever I could for them.
I have tried very hard to keep this promise. But I am realizing now that this promise has turned into me doing everything, and this may not always be such a good thing.
My girls are great daughters, and I know that is hard to say about teenage girls. I think I have an amazing relationship with each of them, and they have a pretty good relationship with each other – as far as sisters go. They are nice and respectful to me, and for the most part do not give me a hard time. I am very thankful for them.
BUT I think I have turned them into the two laziest girls on the face of the planet. I do everything for them – laundry, dinners, dishes, cleaning up. taking care of the dog (and they wonder why he loves me best). Plus the fact that they are the two messiest girls in the world, so cleaning up after them is no easy task.
I thought about the fact that when I made this promise to myself, the girls were 10 and 12 years old and grieving the loss of their father. They are now just about 16 and 18. I think it might be time to make a change.
I sat them both down and told them how I felt. Their reaction could not have been better. They apologized to me and said they would try to help out more. My fear is that these were just words – it is five days later and you should see what their rooms looks like.
Now we will see if they actually do make the effort. Old habits are hard to break. This may be harder for me than it is for them. I know that I need to stop doing everything for them. They need to not only do more for themselves, but also help me out a little. It is time. I am hoping we can all make a positive change.
There is something I think about often. It is the same thing I didn’t like to think about before Howie died. Thankfully Howie not only thought about it, but did something about it.
That something is life insurance.Who wants to think about that? Who would think that they may really need it one day? I certainly didn’t.
I vaguely remember Howie telling me that he was getting life insurance. I think my eyes glazed over while he was talking. I was probably watching “The Bachelor” or something like that when he was speaking, which seemed much more important at the time, so I didn’t pay attention. I do remember telling him that I didn’t want to think about anything like that, and nothing was going to happen to him anyway.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. A few years later Howie passed away, and because his death was so sudden, there was no time to talk about things like that. While I did remember having that quick conversation about life insurance years earlier, I didn’t know anything about it. What company was it with? Where was the policy? How much was it for? I was clueless.
Luckily, Howie had told other people about the policy. Since they weren’t watching reality TV while he explained it, they were able to help point me in the right direction to file my claim.
I was very lucky. If Howie had thought like I did, that “nothing is going to happen”, I would be in a very unfortunate situation today.
Things do happen. I know this better than anyone. It completely sucks, but they do. I always thought it happened to other people. You know – a college friend’s cousin’s uncle, a neighbor of your brother’s in-laws, someone in your town that you met once at a party. I never would have thought it could happen to us.
Chances are, something like that will not happen to most families. It really is pretty rare. But now I know that it is really important to be prepared, just in case.
I can say a lot of things about Howie. He was far from perfect – he left his dirty clothes ALL over the house, he was not the least bit handy, he was always late – I could go on :). But he thankfully did good on something terribly important, which I will always be grateful for.
Just something to think about.
I remember in the first few weeks after Howie died, a close friend said to me “I don’t know how you are doing it. I don’t think I could get out of bed if I was in your place.”
I also remember my response being “Yes you would. You are no different than I am. You are a mother and we do what we have to do for our kids.”
I meant it then and I still mean it now. For most of the women that I know. We do what we have to do.
So in those first few weeks, I wanted to stay in bed under the covers and not get up all day. Who wouldn’t? But if I did that, how would my kids get up? How would they go to school? How would they know that we had to move forward, even if we didn’t want to? So I got up, got them up, and made them go to school. And I either went to work or did whatever needed to get done that day.
Believe me, this was no easy task. For myself, as well as for them. Once I would get them to school. I worried all day. And on about half of those days, I would get a call from the middle school saying that Amanda wanted to come home. Some days I was able to talk her into staying. But on the others, I would go pick her up because she just couldn’t be there.
Now, I myself look back on that time and don’t understand how I did it either. But the truth is, I was almost robotic. I got up and did whatever I had to do on any given day because I didn’t have a choice. We needed to live so that’s what we did. But living and being alive are two different things. Everything I did was because I had to, not because I wanted to.
Weeks turned to months, and months to years. Of course time makes things better. There were plenty of happy moments in that time. But I was not this pillar of strength that I tried to pretend to be. The smile on my face was sometimes so fake that it hurt. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it and believe me, I made some very big mistakes.
Now I can truly say that I feel strong. I have become my own person in the past year and I love that. It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual. My life is far from perfect – I still have plenty of bad moments, but they are much fewer and more far between.
In the past couple of weeks I ran into two different women that I know. One is just starting to go through a divorce and one is very recently divorced. I also had a conversation with a widow that I am friendly with. All three of these women are going through a difficult time at the moment, each for different reasons. I could see myself in all of them. I was where they all are for a very long time, probably too long.
I wish that none of us had to go through that pain. But as much as I was faking that strength for so long, it must have been in me somewhere because it eventually came out. I know it will come out for each of them also. Sometimes it appears when you least expect it.
I am so very proud to say that everything I have been through has brought me to my writing and now being published. Check out my articles