Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Widow Advice #3 Balance Sheets Don't Have a Thread Count

Dear Carol,
I love your new format and could hardly wait to write to you. I hope you print this or write back privately.

I am overwhelmed with paper. They come in the form of bills, legal papers to sign and lawyer bills. My kitchen table is so covered I need to clear a space when I put my plate down to eat.

I wish I had been more aware of our finances. Bill felt he was protecting me by handling everything himself. He died suddenly six months ago and now I am a mess.

My son is only sixteen and can't really help me. I've turned to John, my sister's husband for advice and also Bill's best friend, Pete and even though they are patient with me I just can't seem to concentrate and understand what they are explaining. I feel like I am imposing and can't ask again.

I am not a stupid woman. I am a high school Social Studies teacher. I just feel like my brain has melted. What is happening me?

Feeling Stupid Sue

Dear Feeling Stupid Sue,
I noticed that you used the word 'stupid' twice and also in your 'sign off.' Being a Social Studies teacher probably means you're smarter than you're giving yourself credit for.

On the other hand, I remember my 10th grade Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Birmingham smelled, drifted off to sleep at her desk and she only wore two outfits - a red dress and a black dress. She alternated. I suppose she still could have been intelligent, just tired with a limited wardrobe that she never dry cleaned.

Whatever. Intelligence has nothing to do with your inability to understand your finances. You are smack in the middle of your grieving process. Bill is gone only six months. I'm sure that you're foggy about everything even in the areas you were confident and sharp about before your husband died.

As long as your I.Q. is more than double digits I guarantee time itself will lift your fog. Paying bills and understanding lawyerese may never be your strong suit but one day you'll wake up and similiar to suddenly needing your hair trimmed, you will discover that what was virtually a mystery to you is clear.

I used to be pampered and clueless about money. Jimmy would joke that I assume I have money in my checking account because I have checks left. After he died, my good friend and accountant, Gary patiently explained to me that a balance sheet does not have a thread count. I told him I knew that but I don't think he believed me.

Bill shielded you from all things financial as long as you both shall live and today you are helpless to decipher the endless piles of papers. You'll learn as I did, but I deeply regret that I didn't stay awake during Jimmy's long explanations of his business transactions.

Fortunately, many of the papers you need to sign and understand are specific to losing a spouse. When the estate is settled your responsibilites as exectutrix will end, too.

In my case, it took more than two years. But, now I can see my dining room table. Happy will be the day when you can discard your tax attorneys along with their inflated invoices and egos.

Wrestling with finances, especially with this stormy economic climate will be a constant in our lives, yet as life continues our expenses will be more predictable.

Sue, believe me, I know it's not easy to be left with bank statements that need translation. And, mixed with confusion is resentment. Now we are forced to grow up and learn how the real world works. Some would say, "It's about time." (not to our face, of course)

I'm concerned that you are self concious and hesitate to ask your brother-in-law, John and Bill's best friend, Pete for more help. They, too loved your husband and they are good men who want to pull together with you. They want you to carry on to live the way Bill would want you to live. Let them in.

I still lean on Jimmy's buddies, Henry and Trifon and others. It's made us closer. Let your son see that you are the grown up and can handle yourself. Gene, my evil bereavement shrink said,

"Think of your family in a boat. The captain has fallen overboard. If there is a son in the family often he grabs for the wheel. YOU be the one to take the helm and gently steer."

My son, Doug respected me enough to allow me to sift through the muddle. He helped, but his expectations of me drove me to expect more from myself.

Life has dealt you a crummy hand. Try to take it as an opportunity to grow.

Time is your best friend, Sue.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Widow Advice #2 - Out of the Closet

Dear Carol,

I'm so grateful I found your blog. I enjoy your wit and disclosure so much. It reminds me that all that I'm feeling is "normal."

This Sunday, February 22nd wil be exactly one year since Bob passed on. He was ill for nearly two years and I don't need to get into the heartache that it caused me and our two girls (now ages 17 and 19) Bob was only 49.

I'm writing about his clothes. Friends tell me "it's time" to clean out the closet and "get rid of his stuff." I'm almost ready, but I feel that they are pressuring me. In some ways I like going into "our" closet and seeing and smelling his things near mine.

Another thing that holds me back is the practical. I really don't know what to do with Bob's shirts and ties and pants, etc. Everyone says "Donate them" but donate them where?

Thanks again for helping me to smile again.

Judith (Poor Widow Me, too)

Dear Judith (Poor Widow Me, too)

The clothes, the closet, is a tough one. Granted, your friends mean well. They want you to "move on" but I'll bet that none of them are widows.

For the first year and a half I'd walk into the closet we shared when I wanted to have a heart to heart with Jimmy. There, surrounded by his shirts ad slacks and shoes I was with him. It was far more convenient than driving to the cemetery and it wasn't necessary to stop on the way to pick up flowers.

But seriously, we long for contact, probably more so when it's the death of a young child or a spouse. They've been so physically close to us that we ache for their touch again. This is the most human part of grief, the longing for a body that we know intimately.

Clothes bring us back to that body and the body back to us. Judith, you may be "almost ready" but you aren't there yet. It sounds like you the comfort of your husband's clothes to keep him close to you. I remember standing in the closet literally shaking my head to understand that my husband didn't exist anymore to fill out those clothes. That must be a process that we need to go through.

All these moments weren't tender and longing. I'd run my fingers along the leg of the pants that I bought him months before he got sick. I'd eye the unfinished edge. He never bothered to shorten them. I'd relive how that infuriated me. His reponse made me even madder.

"I'll do it. I'll do it. Just leave me alone about it," he'd say annoyed at me.

I'd see shirts I gave him for Christmas never tried on.

"You're were so ungracious," I'd yell to the air after he died. "It was no fun to buy you stuff." Was he in the closet hearing me?

Some days I would chastise myself. Why did that still make me so angry? It's only stupid clothes and now he's not here to wear them. Other days the memory of him allowing to be so frustrated propelled me out of the closet. I'd slam the door behind me. Visit's over.

"HA. If you had been nicer about trying on stuff on I'd miss you more" I'd scream to the air.

I was embarrassed when friends gently suggested "it's time" to "do the closet" - I'd joke that I could afford to be sentimental because I didn't need the closet space.

I guess it's pretty obvious, Judith, that I understand your need to hold unto Bob's clothes. We all have symbols. This one is ours.

In the first bereavement group that I failed, a widower named Dave told us that he threw away his wife's clothes the day after her funeral. I, silently nicknamed him "Brave Dave" because as you know, this is an unpopular move among the bereaved. I watched the others cover up their horror with phony reassurance.

"Whatever is good for you is the right thing," they chanted like Stepford Wives.

Poor Brave Dave - his wife was sick for four years and there was probably not a top or a pair of pants that didn't yell out to him, "Oh, this is what she wore when we picked up her first wheelchair...and here is the outfit she had on for her last round of chemo."

He needed to make his house healthy again.

So, when you are ready I have a wonderful suggestion, something I did. Hire a seamstress to make a memory quilt from all the most familiar items, shirts, polos, pants, etc. Each square of clothing is about four or five inches and you choose a backing that represents your husband, sports, or fishing, etc.

This enables you to begin weeding out what you will eventually give away (clothing bins are in every neighborhood) You will get rid of the major part of Bob's wardrobe but you are saving forever the pattern and material that you most associate with your husband.

I surprised my daughter and son with one for each of them the second Christmas, a year and eight months after their Dad died. They keep it draped over their couch and I 'm sure they snuggle up to it when they need to be close. Your daughters will love this and if they go away to school they can take it with them.

At first I was going to have one made for me, but then thought it was too morbid. I can always see it and touch it when I visit the kids.

And, time does pass. These days, when M comes over and we get cozy on the couch I see that it would be a bit freaky to notice,

"Hey, isn't your shirt the same as the square in the quilt?"

You're almost there, Judith. Wait until you're there completely. You'll know when.

Carol - PWM

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Widow Advice #1 - Everything Comes With An "Oy"

Hi Folks,
I've gotten dozens of e-mails telling me they are happy I am changing this to an advice column and they sent me questions I will print here each new entry. Here is the first one:

Dear Carol,

You are amazing and have helped me so much. I think an advice column for "Poor Widow Me" is a terrific idea. I've e-mailed you before and I may be of those too pathetic to print, but here goes:

My husband Phil was only 53 when he died of pancreatic cancer almost a year and a half ago. We were married 30 years and most of the time we were happy. My son is 29 and he tells me he dreams about his father several times a month.

My problem is that for a long time I never dreamt about Phil and I felt terrible about that. Suddenly, this week I've dreamt about him twice. It turns out I was happier before the dreams because these dreams were really nightmares.

They both had Phil being mean to me. The one that upset me the most was the one where he was dressed like Abraham Lincoln with the big black hat. He was criticizing the new sofa I bought. (in real life I did buy a sofa) He shook his finger at me scolding me.

I woke up as I was jumping up and down trying to knock the Abe Lincoln hat off his head. I know you're not a dream interpeter, but maybe you can help me not to care so much about these dreams. You always seem to have a funny spin on things.

Your friend,
Charlene, (Another Widow)

Dear Charlene, (Another Widow)

I'm glad you mentioned dreams to me because I, too, didn't dream of Jimmy until it was about 8 months and then again about 6 months ago two times. None of the dreams were pleasant. None of them made me feel...oooh, for a short time I feel like I have my Jimmy back.

When my friends asked me what my first dream was about I was reluctant to tell them. I was afraid it would make me sound angry and resentful. I told them anyway.

It was during a period when I was trying to sell Jimmy's limousine company. I was sitting in a theatre in a perfect seat, the center of row five or six from the stage. All of a sudden Jimmy appears and tells me I should move to where all his employees are sitting.

I didn't want to sit with them, but I listened to Jimmy and in the next scene I'm in a terrible seat seat all the way to the side and I'm straining to see the stage. In the dream I'm annoyed with myself that I listened to him.

My friend Richie laughed and said, "Here you are trying to distance yourself from those company people and even in your dreams you can't get away from them."

Boy, Charlene, was I relieved that he translated it that way. I took it to mean that I'm proud to be making decisions on my own and needing less and less imput from Jimmy.

Here you are having made a decision to buy a new sofa, normally something a couple would choose together. Good for you. In many ways it must have made you feel great. You're changing your enviroment, something I did, too...some widows move, others redecorate.

The point is I believe as our lives move forward we feel confusion that our grief is at odds with our growing sense of ourselves. It's not exactly guilt we feel, but something close to it.

For a spoiled brat of a wife like me who made dinner by calling for reservations little by little I saw lots of things my husband took care of are not all that complicated. I just never paid attention. No need.

As newscaster and snappy dresser Diane Sawyer said, "There's no subsitute for paying attention."

Lots of widows wrestle with feeling a sense of pride for each small personal triumph while it's colored with a sense of shame. It's normal. It's healthy as we begin to live in the world without the support of a husband.

You're no doubt feeling, "What would Phil think of this couch?

"What would Phil think of me spending the money to buy it?"

"How would Phil feel about me replacing the old one that has all the memories? (and stains)

Well, just wait when you start dating Charlene, and see how it feels to be feeling,

"What would Jimmy, er, I mean, Phil think about me sitting on this couch with another man?"

Anyway, I explained this weird combo of feelings to my friend Jade.

She got it and re-phrased it like this: "I understand, Carol," she said. "Everything comes with an oy."


Oh, by the way. I wouldn't be concerned about the Abe Lincoln get up. It must reflect all the stuff in the news about Lincoln/Obama. You've internalized it - just like if someone sticks your hand in water while you're sleeping - you'll pee in your bed.

Hope this helped. Best to you in 2009 - let me hear from you again.

Carol - PWM

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Where Do I Go From Here?

You may have noticed I haven't written a new entry since "I Thought I'd Be More of a Slut."

Here's my dilemma. Where do I go from here? I've met someone. I'll call him "M" which is "W" upside down if you're dyslectic. I've taken myself out of the dating pool (I've never been much for swimming) to enjoy and see where this relationship goes.

Here's the hitch. I don't really want to take you along for the ride. And I don't want my children to be privy to my antics. Suddenly, I've found my privacy gene. Who would have thunk it?

More importantly, publicly sharing my life today, normal and natural as it is - is beginning to feel disrespectful to Jimmy's memory.

I've gotten away from the point of the blog which was to express the aftermath of widowhood from my very personal day to day living. Did I set this up to help other widows? Come on. Anyone who knows me knows I am way too self absorbed for that.

Writing forced me to pinpoint my exact feelings and it gave me clarity during an unimaginable unfocused and searingly painful period. Notice there are two ME's and a MY in that previous sentence. I told you - self absorbed.

Now, almost three years later, I'm in a new period and it's none of your %$*!%^business. Of course, I only mean that in a loving way.

But, and that's a big BUTT - from all the confusion and loss comes wisdom and son of a gun - a bit of grace. I believe I really do have something valuable to offer other widows. I have managed to hold onto myself. (not literally) I've lost my spouse without losing myself.

This is clear to me because my sense of humor is undoubtably what most defines me to me. That has remained in tact during some extremely dark days to boot. I'm seeing that I can inspire other widows to step outside of their comfort zone to find themselves again.

In the two bearevement groups I joined and failed and in my sessions with Gene, my evil shrink, I took away one phrase that rang right. Our lives will never be "normal" again, not in the way we knew it, but we must strive to find "the new normal."

Even doing familar things feels unfamiliar because we've been damaged. I know this only too well. But, time and the right attitude heals us. I can't do anything about the time. My name's not Ann Sullivan, the Miracle Worker, you know.

Yet, I believe I can champion other widows to choose a positive healing attitude. I can help them to accept their "new normal" by rediscovering their "old self."

After much thinking (so much so that my furried brow needs an extra shot of Botox) I'm going to turn this blog into an advice column for widows and widowers. It will be helpful and real and funny and entertaining.

Besides the comments displayed here I've gotten tons of e-mails throughout the life of this blog. They always tell me how much my blog has given them strength. Unfortunately, many of them are too pathetic to print.

So, please write to me and let me know what you think about the new format...which I haven't shown you yet (will begin it ASAP) and to the poor widows and poor widowers out there let me hear from you.

To e-mail me: click on "View My Complete Profile" above the orange "Health Maven" to find e-mail address. Thank you, as always for reading and allowing me a forum to shout from.