When My Love and I were in our early years, we were one of those sappy couples that acknowledged every special day in our relationship. The anniversary of the first day we exchanged emails on-line. Our first date. The anniversary of our second date (momentous because we were living in different states so we only got to see each other every three to four weeks for a weekend until he moved to the city I was living in at the time). The anniversary of our engagement. And of course, our wedding anniversary. I think it was only around the time we added child #3 that we quit celebrating everything on a consistent basis but we’d occasionally surprise each other with a card. This year, for me, there are all of those days plus other “anniversaries” that mark the calendar and the passing of time for me. These are anniversaries that do not bring a smile to my lips or happiness to my heart.
The first three or four months after My Love’s death, I found myself going through a cycle of emotions. It seemed like the 10th of every month I would have a REALLY.REALLY.bad.day. It literally took me three to four months to realize the pattern. Then it was like “oh yeah, it’s the 10th of the month…” When I realized it, I was then able to prepare myself for those days and it wouldn’t be so bad because at least I knew why I was really sad. He died on the 10th of the month. My therapist says that our bodies have a kind of memory that even if we are consciously not thinking about a traumatic event, our body will remember. I am not sure whether I buy that or not, but maybe… So every 10th of the month, there is an anniversary which will lead up to the “big one” the one-year anniversary of his death. I keep thinking, “once I get through all these firsts, will it stop being so hard?” Lately I find myself impatiently wishing these months away because I want to just be “done” with it. Not that I will be done with the grieving, just done with the anniversaries.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. Most years, I wouldn’t even remember what I was doing the previous Pentecost Sunday or what the date was the previous year. This year it is forever etched in my memory for several reasons. The first is because our former priest filled in for our current priest and as he did while pastoring our parish, he had us all kneel with him after the homily and pray St. Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit. It’s a personal favorite of mine and I pray it often in the mornings at the start of my day. It’s also etched in my memory because it’s the last time we made love. How many people can remember the exact last time they had sex? I can. It was Pentecost Sunday 2012 (actually May 27th), it was great, seriously great, and it was the last time. The next night My Love discovered the lump in his neck/shoulder. Two nights later the night sweats began. Within a week, he was so incredibly sick and we were frantic with worry because we suspected cancer but were still so early in the diagnosis process that we had no firm answer. In fact, answers are something I still really don’t have even after reading the pathology report and the death certificate. Another anniversary to add to the long list of the anniversaries that have marked my days this year.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Often times, people say “begin at the beginning,” but I’d rather not. Today I want to begin in the middle of the first chapter of our relationship – our wedding day. This day, 12 years ago, February 17, 2001, I woke up to a glorious morning. In typical Oklahoma fashion, we’d had snow four days earlier but the weather forecast predicted sunny and highs in the mid-60′s. I arrived at the salon around 7:30 in the morning to begin the process of getting ready. Originally I thought 7:30am was ridiculously early as our wedding was not scheduled until 1pm. As it turned out, I was in fact rushing around to get dressed, get my makeup on, and calm myself before the photographer arrived to take some pre-wedding photos. I won’t go into all the pre-wedding drama between my mother and I. It doesn’t matter anymore because at the end of the day, I was married to my best friend and the man that was better than I could have ever dreamed for myself.
My sister sent me a note this past week expressing fond memories of My Love and how much fun our wedding was for her. It was fun! We paid for the wedding ourselves and because we also chose to buy a home (we closed on it three days before our wedding), we kept our wedding and honeymoon a simple affair. We held our reception in the parish hall, had simple hors d’oeuvres, but we splurged on the most delicious cake (bavarian crème cheese cake). While the venue was simple we made sure there was music and dancing because my family LOVES a party. One of my favorite memories of that day, was not dancing with My Love (the man truly had no rhythm but loved me so attempted “the first dance”), or the “father-daughter” dance, but dancing with his mom while the song “So Young” by the Irish band The Corrs was blaring from the speakers. His mother passed away 5 days after our first anniversary so that is a particularly treasured memory.
My favorite part of our wedding day, however, had to be attending Mass for the first time as husband and wife. We did not celebrate a Nuptial Mass because I am the only Catholic on my side of the family, and many of his family members have left the Faith. So we attended the Vigil Mass right after our reception ended. As we were walking in to the vestibule, the couple in charge of finding gift bearers asked us if we would like to bring the gifts for Communion. They had no idea we’d just been married that afternoon. It seemed a perfect end to our wedding as it brought us back full circle to the beginning of our relationship.
Over the last few days, as I have dreaded this day and planned for how I would get through it, others have admonished me to “remember the good times” I had with My Love. I do. I always remember the good times, which makes each and every day without him such a heartache. I treasure what we had and know that it was special, and dare I say, even rare in marriages today.
My Love, I will love you forever and always, to the moon and back!
~ The Reluctant Widow
Happy New Year! I hope that this year for you is one filled with grace and peace! I am truly hoping that this year will bring a measure of grace to me (especially in parenting) and peace. One significant step in that direction was the purchase of our new home. I won’t go into all the details but let me just say that this house has a peaceful presence about it that has not existed in other homes we’ve lived in before. I walk around the house and though it’s smaller in size than the home we had, I feel embraced and safe in this home. It’s cozy and I like it. The great thing is that my children also really like it. They now go off to their bedrooms on their own volition to play, and they are relatively nice to each other. (meaning the boys will let their little sister play with them) The house’s location also means less driving for me on a daily basis, so I feel as though I will gain back valuable time in my day for prayer, housekeeping, and cooking. All things that have gone by the wayside since My Love died.
Cooking is something I really used to enjoy, and if my sisters are to be believed, they say I am pretty good at it. For me, it’s the creative process of cooking that I enjoy. Searching out a new recipe and trying it. I actually have experimented all that much since becoming a mom because I have some picky palates. One doesn’t like any spice, even garlic. Another won’t do tomatoes. Two like things extra spicy and don’t like the neutral flavors as I try to accommodate my pickier palates. Thank goodness for tabasco and hot pepper flakes! The net result is that the only time I would experiment with new dishes and flavors, was when we had company. Then I would happily spend hours putting together a menu, searching out recipes, and cooking. I know it’s probably not the thing to experiment with new dishes when you have company, but it really was the only time I felt I could legitimately try out new flavors. It makes me sad though that I didn’t cook more of the things that my husband and I liked. I remember the Christmas we were engaged, he gave me a box set of spices and Indian cooking book. I had so much fun trying out recipes like Chicken Tikka Masala, homemade Naan bread, making ghee (clarified butter), using unusual spices like cardamom, garam masala, fenugreek, and black mustard seeds. I remember how he gallantly ate the cucumber raita (it’s like an Indian version of salsa) even though he couldn’t stand cucumbers. That is love.
I am not sure how I got off on this cooking tangent except for the fact that I now have a great kitchen for cooking. I feel as though everything I wanted to have in the old house but didn’t, is in this house. It makes me both happy and sad. Happy to think that God cares about me enough to lead me to a house that I wasn’t even looking for at the time, but sad because I wish I could share it with the person that I loved most in this world. My kids can’t appreciate the sunroom or pergola over the back patio, the way the My Love would have appreciated it. My kids don’t realize how much I craved a light-filled space such as we have here, or how much having an actual laundry room instead of a cubby makes doing the laundry both easier and more enjoyable. Mostly, I find myself once again just missing him terribly and I can’t decide whether I want the passage of time to ease the hurt and make the pain more distant, or whether I want to always feel this way because then it means that we had something really, truly special.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Apparently I am not living for my children. This is what my mother told me. Her exact words to me were, “We’ve been praying that a switch will flip for you soon so that you can start living for your children.” Excuse me? I am pretty fed up with people who have no idea what I have been through in the last six months, a) telling me what I need to do, and b) criticizing me for what I am doing. The way this all came about was that the kids and I, along with my sisters, brother, and parents were going to go to Branson, MO for a little post-Christmas vacation. My folks and siblings have fond memories of going to Silver Dollar City. However, I literally moved into a new home a week before Christmas. It’s been weeks of packing up the old, sorting/giving away things that we can’t use/won’t fit in the new house, and then the tedious process of unpacking the new home and figuring out where all our stuff is going to go. In between, I’ve had to get Christmas done all by myself this year. I’m exhausted, and I told my family, I just didn’t think I could face packing us all up to go away for three days. It was too much. I’d hit my emotional wall. I spent a lot of time crying around Christmas. I miss My Love so much my heart and body literally ache. But excuse me, I feel as though I’ve done nothing but live for my kids. I left for a family vacation to Montana one week after I buried my husband, and spent a hellacious trip there and back (six days in all) in the car with four grieving children and my parents who constantly bicker and criticize each other and me. I did it for the children even though I did not want to go. Everything I have done for the last six months has been for them. I do live for my kids. What I haven’t done, or can’t do, is live for myself. I can’t really grieve. I have moments yes, but I have to suck it up and get my shit together because it upsets my kids, or I just plain don’t have time for it. I’d like to be alone. My introverted self desperately NEEDS to be alone to pursue the things that refresh me (reading, writing daily, learning something new) but a majority of days I have about one hour before bed to do anything, and by that time I’m so exhausted, I can’t read anything other than a fluffy mystery novel. My intellect is parched. My emotional bank account is empty, and I do feel like I am going to flip and not in a good way.
What do I need from my family in particular, and people in general? I need my parents to take my kids to Branson and leave me here for four days of peace and quiet and yes, lots of crying, writing, and reading. I need people to understand that it takes a while for someone who was so incredibly spoiled by a husband who was in a true partnership in parenting, to just get used to having to do everything on my own. And, to let me feel like it sucks and that I hate it because you know what? It sucks and I hate it. Parenting four children is a job for two, so forgive me if I resent the fact that my kids now have only me and I am a poor substitute for a father. I’m doing the best I can.
So I am frustrated, fed up, and sad. I am hopeful for the future because I love my new house, I have counseling appointments set up with a new counseling group for me, and for all of us as a family. But never, ever, believe that I am not living for my kids, because I am. I am just not living life as easily or well as I did in the past.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Today is the day I’ve been dreading for a few weeks now. It marks the 13th anniversary of my first date with My Love. We were one of those sickening couples that marked the anniversary of everything – first date, engagement, wedding, kids’ family days, etc. I think it’s because we always knew that each significant event in our lives only existed because God brought the two of us together and we knew it from the start. As long as we lived in the town that we had our first date, we marked the date by going to the same restaurant we first met at, then driving to a mega church here in town where they have an obscenely large light display, and we finish the evening with a piece of pie at a different restaurant. These activities were actually interspersed over two days that original weekend that My Love came to meet me for the first time. Sometime I might share the story of how we actually “met” while living in two different cities, 11 hours apart, but not today.
As I think back on that evening, I still have to laugh a bit when I think about my husband. This man, whom I had only talked with the phone, was so painfully shy during those phone conversations. Yet as I left my car and walked toward the entrance to the restaurant, I saw him standing there waiting for me. Even though we’d never exchanged pictures, I knew it was him, and he me. Before I could cross the parking lot, he yelled “wait, wait” and went running back to his rental car. As I reached the sidewalk, he came walking toward me carrying a dozen long-stemmed red roses and was wearing a Minnesota Vikings cap complete with long yellow braids. The poor guy didn’t want to step all the way out on that limb if I was going to stand him up, but he’d promised me he’d wear something “Minnesotan,” so he left it in the car just in case. I knew at that moment, I’d marry him. And we had a beautiful marriage.
The last week or so, I have felt a spirit crushing loneliness for him. I think about that first date, and what I most remember is that although the restaurant was incredibly crowded and we had to sit in a booth at the back of the bar, I don’t remember ever noticing there was anyone else there. The way he looked at me, I knew I was the only person in the room he noticed. Oh.my.word! He had the bluest eyes and from that day onward, those eyes only ever looked at me with the deepest love and tenderness. Even when I was being impossible, or insecure, or trying to push him away, he would just look at me with such love and understanding. We talked for hours that night, the next day, and the next night. All the awkwardness of our phone conversations disappeared in my presence. I knew I’d found my soul mate.
My husband was always a very chivalric man. Some would say “old-fashioned” but I loved it. By the end of our two days together, he’d told me he wanted to move to my city so that he could “court” me. I told my dad on the phone a day later, “Dad, he said he wanted to ‘court’ me. He talked courtship. How can I not love a man like that?” Courtship had always seemed to me to be something very serious, something leading to marriage, not simply dating “to see what might happen” or “to see if we’re suited for each other.” His words and offer made me feel safe, cherished, and incredibly special. No man had ever made me feel that loved, although I have to admit, in general I wasn’t one to give my heart to just any old guy who smiled at me and asked me out.
I’ve gone out to My Love’s grave a couple of times with my children, but today I decided to go out there by myself. I just needed to have some connection with him. Today I was the one who brought a dozen long-stemmed red roses. I also brought an ornament with me to leave there that had very special meaning for me. The Christmas right after I met my husband, my aunt came for a visit. She brought with her a Christopher Radko ornament that was a big, green frog. She gave it to me and said, “I hear you’ve kissed your last frog.” Yup. I had. Every year that ornament is one of the first to go on the tree. I don’t think I will ever be able to look at it again without my heart breaking. It’s better to be with him. The last frog I kissed turned out to be my Prince Charming.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Just when I think I have this whole single mom thing down, I realize I don’t. I thought that life was chugging along fairly well. There are changes on the horizon for us that are exciting. But I am not “chugging along fairly well.” My younger three children are a mess and I can’t seem to get the professional help I need to help them work through their grief. They are too young (two 8.5 yr olds and a 7 yr old) to really know how to express their feelings about their dad dying. They are angry, they are whining a lot, they are disrespectful, and downright hateful toward each other and toward me. I have one child with definite attachment disorder issues, and yet we have visited two psychologists since adopting him almost two years ago, and neither one took our concerns very seriously. I’ve tried to have the younger three receive some grief counseling, only to be told by said counselors that at their age, they may not be ready to process their grief for six to nine months following the loss of a parent. Great. That doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving and that I don’t have to deal with the fallout from it. It just means I am supposed to suck it up and wait until the “right” time.
Two nights ago, when a girlfriend called me to pray the Nighttime Prayer of the Divine Office, all I could do was sob on the phone to her. It’s not that I don’t love my children, I do. It’s also not that I don’t know exactly where this is all coming from because I do. It’s just that it’s so constant, so exhausting, and so emotionally consuming. My kids have always had issues related to their adoption histories, but I always had a release valve when it all got to be too much for me. His name was “My Love.” Whenever their bickering, sassing, disobedience and disrespect got to be too much for me, I could turn to him and say, “I just have to get out of here for an hour or two,” and he’d say he had my back, and out the door I’d go to the grocery store alone, or to Starbucks to drink ice tea and read a little bit. Then I’d come home with a clearer head, refreshed spirit, and ready to sit down with whoever the offenders were to work out how we can have a better day tomorrow. Sometimes, I would need to apologize for my words and ask their forgiveness. Now, however, I have no release valve. It’s just me and in my stress and yes, anger, my words are not what should be spoken by a woman of my age and supposed maturity. I yell a lot more than I want to. I have to apologize so many times for yelling that I don’t think my children really believe that I am sorry even though I end up in my room in a puddle of tears feeling like a wretch every.single.time. Sometimes I get self-righteous and think “why am I the one feeling so badly when ____ is the one that was being so disrespectful to me and challenging my authority?”
It strikes me then, that this is how I treat God. I treat him as my children treat me. I challenge his authority in my life, I say “No!” to him when it comes to acts of obedience, and I always think that I know better what I need for myself and want to disregard his wisdom. Yet, God never yells at me. He never loses patience with me, and he never needs a “release valve” where he turns to Jesus and says, “Hey, I can’t take this woman anymore. She’s rude, disrespectful, and ungrateful. I just need a time-out from her.” Thank goodness he never says that! I know that I am supposed to be modeling Christ to my kids. I know that I am supposed to love them as Christ loves them. I try and fail miserably. Maybe one or two days a week I can honestly say at the end of the day, “I did it. I loved them even when they were unlovable. I showed them love, patience, kindness, generosity, and respect.” Most days, however, if I gave myself a grade I’d get a “D” at best. I am so thankful for the sacraments to turn to in hopes of the grace to have a better day tomorrow. One step forward, two steps back. That’s my life.
~ The Reluctant Widow
I have been part of a “Mom’s of Young Children” group since moving back to my city. One of the many activities they do is to meet for a faith study each week. I call it a faith study and not a Bible study because while a lot of the times we study the Bible, sometimes we do something that teaches us more about or encourages us in our faith. Right now we are reading the book Style, Sex, and Substance: Ten Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter, and the chapter we covered this week was Rebecca Teti’s piece on work/vocation. What struck me about the chapter was not so much the discussion about our vocation to womanhood, but some points she made about the witness we give to the world as Catholic women.
The reason it struck me in particular is because I have been thinking a lot about how we treat each other. Having been around the Catholic blogosphere for a while now, I am quite familiar with the sometimes judgemental way in which we treat each other. It is certainly right to correct someone if they are violating Church teaching or if they are misrepresenting her teachings. However, in matters that don’t have to do with faith and morals, why do we attack each other with such vitriol? Why do we look at each other askance if we don’t agree with a practice or share the same beliefs regarding modesty?
A couple of weeks ago, just before leaving on vacation, my children and I attended Saturday evening liturgy at our parish. When we walked into the building, I noticed that the chapel was full of people and they appeared to be celebrating a Latin Rite Mass. I thought it was interesting, and moved on into the church to find a place to sit and pray. After Mass, I was standing with a couple of women talking. One of the women asked what had been going on in the chapel. The other woman, her voice filled with disdain, said, “Oh that was a Latin Rite Mass. I can assure you we will not be having that again.” I was taken aback. One, because this woman is usually not what I would call “catty,” and two, because I thought “why not?” Was it because the women mostly wore long skirts, and veils? Was it because the priest faced away from the congregation? Was it because the entire Mass was in Latin? Why? We had the space available, they had a need, we helped them to celebrate the Eucharist.
I’ve seen many posts and blogs over the years that share quite strong opinions about what is modest or immodest. Women should cover their heads, women should only wear skirts and dresses, dresses should be ankle length, tankini’s are immodest, one piece suits are immodest, swim dresses are modest, couples shouldn’t even kiss before their wedding day (I guess both sides can agree that shacking up and sex before marriage is NOT OK according to Church teaching), pants are OK, shorts are OK, v-neck t-shirts are OK, women who cover their heads and bodies and attend Latin Rite Masses are freaks and intolerant. The vitriol in the com boxes is astounding. Aren’t we the Universal Church with not a universal celebration but many (different ways) of celebrating the One True God?
I attended a scripture study yesterday. It takes place each week at another parish and is led by a former priest. Each week, we go through the next Sunday’s Gospel to prepare our hearts to hear. I am particularly thankful for this study because sometimes (sadly) during the Gospel reading I am too busy correcting naughty behavior to fully pay attention. This coming Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 12:28-35. Monsignor began by first pointing out that the scribe in the passage first saw, heard, and then approached. He saw the exchanges between Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sadduces. He heard what Jesus and each group said. Then he approached Jesus because he determined that what Jesus said was good. After that Monsignor moved on to the other points in the passage, but my mind stayed there a while as I thought about the fact that the world is watching us and waiting to see if we “answer well” as Jesus did when the Scribe was watching him. The implication in the passage was that the Scribe saw and heard what Jesus did and said, and he became one of Jesus’ disciples.
In the beginning of the chapter by Rebecca Teti, she too was talking about how others might see us when we grump about Christmas decorations in stores in September (I am guilty of this bah-humbug attitude), or when we tear each others’ persons or decisions down because we don’t like the way someone dresses, or we don’t like the particular way they live out their Catholic faith (assuming of course that they are following the Church’s teachings on faith and morals). One question asked if a space alien was to observe the last three conversations that our Catholic women friends have had, what would they learn about what we believe? What would an alien learn? What would someone who had no real exposure to Catholicism learn from us by observing our actions and listening to our conversations? Would they think we are a faith people who treat each other and strangers with respect, dignity, and love, and be converted? Or would they see a faith where people become insular, where only “our kind” are welcome, and all unspoken rules must be followed, and they would find us lacking? Unfortunately, I am afraid they might just walk away and not want to be a part of such an arrogant and contentious people.
~ The Reluctant Widow