This post is part of Jen’s 7 Posts, 7 Days (I didn’t make it. I only got 5 done. I admire anyone who is able to post daily. You are a blogger extraordinaire.)
I have been reading Postcards from the Widows’ Path by Ferree Hardy. A local widow’s group read the book last Fall but I was not able to attend the meetings. I have read a few books on grief, but this is the first book I have read explicitly dealing with the grief of a widow. I will do a full review of the book in the future when I am finished with it, because there is so much good in this book. However, one of the passages really stood out to me and has not left me since reading it.
Picture the scene in Ruth 2:4-10. Ruth has made a request to not just be allowed to glean after the reapers but to be able to take from the sheaves of barley. The author points out:
“How dare she, a Moabite, have the audacity to make such a request?” That word, “audacity,” tumbled through my mind. Do I have that kind of courage, that kind of chutzpah, audacity?
Now, I would contest that Ruth’s audacity was first demonstrated in her initial decision to ignore Naomi’s command to stay in Moab and move on with her life. (Ruth 1:14-18) She repeatedly showed audacity after her request about gleaning, by going to Boaz and proposing marriage to him under the “kinsman redeemer” law in ancient Judaism. Reading the Book of Ruth begged the question – do I have the audacity of Ruth?
Over the past couple of months, I have felt an opening of my heart. I have felt that stirring in my heart that I have felt in the past when the Lord is wanting to get my attention. I have felt that the Lord wants to bring a new love into my life, a new husband, a man who will be my best friend, who will love me as I deserve to be, and to come along side of me and help me raise my children. He will love my children as much as he loves me. Just six months ago I would have said I was content with the idea of raising my kids alone, getting them off to college, and then seeing what the world of dating and marriage might hold for me. But then, my heart was closed, it was still bitter and angry. I was not ready. Still, all my mind can do is go over why it is just not possible and today it clicked with me why I felt it was impossible: because I would be making an audacious request.
Who am I to have the audacity to ask a man to not only take on a wife, but to take as his own, my four children in addition to whatever children he may have of his own? I don’t feel I have the right to ask that of anyone and that is my biggest resistance in even considering a second marriage – I don’t feel I have the right to ask such an outrageous sacrifice of a man. Three of my four children have physical special needs requiring surgeries in the future. All of them have grief issues. One child is very challenging in his behaviors and has Reactive Attachment Disorder, though in truth, he’s made miraculous progress in the last year. Another child just has super challenging behaviors due to being emotionally immature. My husband and I went into parenting these four children knowing that it was going to be a challenge. Even with eyes wide open, we were still unprepared for all of the challenges. I can’t imagine another man out there really understanding the commitment it will take to be a parent to my children.
So while I will keep my heart and mind open that their might be such a gem out there somewhere, the most audacious request I can make is for God to be with me each moment of each day as I try to be the best only parent I can be to my children.
~ The Reluctant Widow
One of the areas that has become a huge frustration for me in the last year, is that a lot of people are making judgements of me as a mother and as a human. I have been emotionally squashed all the while being crushed by grief. The most recent incident happened last week when a relative came over to my house and proceeded through her body language and her words to tell me that I was not doing a good job raising my children and that I needed to “get it together.”
The most important aspect of grief that I am learning is that grief is not the same for everyone. Every grieving person’s journey is different. It can’t be rushed, it can’t fit into a mold, and it can’t be judged. I want to be clear that my children are safe, they are being fed (probably a little too much junk food), their clothes are clean, and while my house is messy, it is not invested with vermin or insects. So when someone tells me I have to get my act together because my kids need me, what they are really saying is “this is not how I would do it, and I would do it the right way. You are doing it wrong.” There are a lot of these types of judgements to be found in our culture. Everyone has an opinion about everyone else’s life, and the blog-0-sphere is the worst. Search for “parenting blogs” and woah! Will you ever find a lot of advice out there. Most of it only portraying the very best side of their life. Not making your kids healthy lunches and snacks, all cut up in cute little shapes? “Slacker.” Don’t have children who sit quietly in their bedrooms for an hour of “reading time? “You are ruining your child’s chances for a scholarship.” House a little messy all the time, far from ready for a House Beautiful photo shoot? Lazy. What the hell do you do all day anyway? The Catholic blog-o-sphere can be similarly full of judgements. Love Pope Francis? “You’re a Benedict XVI hater.” Adore Papa Bene? “You’re a right-wing, orthodox stick-in-the-mud who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun.” Wear pants, moreover jeans, to Mass? “You have no respect for God and you are causing men to sin with your immodest dress.” Skirt lovin’ chapel veil-wearin’ girlie-girl? “You are a holier-than-thou, rad trad.” For a country that supposedly preaches tolerance, we certainly are very judgmental and intolerant of those who do not live up to our personal standards.
I felt crushed by my relative’s words. Our family has had non-stop sickness in our house since mid-December. I, personally, have had a virus, stomach bug, Influenza A, a sinus infection accompanied by bronchitis and pneumonia. I have only felt energy returning in the last two days. She knows this and yet she still uttered those words. She knows that no one has been to the house to help me because they haven’t wanted to get sick. Did she ever offer to hire Merry Maids for me? Nope. And yet, I let her words crush me and internally began berating myself for being “the worst mother ever.”
Thankfully, I have a really great group of on-line writerly friends. Have I mentioned them to you? We call ourselves “Story Sisters” and we are all a part of the Story Sessions group community. I became a part of this community when I enrolled in Story 101 last Fall. They are the most encouraging, creative, brave, and accepting group of women I am blessed to know. Some of them reminded me that I am walking my own path right now, trying to figure out my “normal” and that it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s idea of normal.
Could I be doing a better job in some areas? You bet. I have never been consistent with routine and structure with my children because I, personally, don’t do routine and structure. I am working on it, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Should I expect more of my children in terms of help around the house? Absolutely, and we are making baby steps toward their becoming more independent in that area. It isn’t something that happens overnight. Do I really care whether the house is a little cluttered, a little messy? Absolutely NOT. I have never been wired that way. I care about it only because I know that others care about it and I feel judged. But truthfully, I can live with a bit of mess as long as it isn’t unsanitary, which it is not. Legos strewn over the floor is a sign that my kids have been creating. Roller skates and roller blades laying on the floor is a sign that they’ve been outside moving their large muscle groups. Markers, paper, scissors, tape, paint, brushes and glue all over the dining room table? Art has happened and could happen again at any moment. Books strewn all over the bathroom floor, well, at least they are reading while taking care of their business. The trash they leave about, the clothes in a heap on the floor, the dishes that never make it into the dishwasher? Now that bothers me. We are working on it.
I am not you. I don’t want to be you. I want to be the person that was uniquely created by God even if that is someone who doesn’t have life figured out perfectly. Even if I am still processing my grief and that grief looks a little ugly to those on the outside. This is my life that I have to live and I am trying to do it as bravely and courageously as I can. Your brave won’t look like my brave and that is okay.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Today would have been My Love’s 51st birthday. It’s been an emotional month for me with Valentine’s Day and the anniversary date of our wedding on the 17th, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to fare with the date of his birth. I found myself not exactly wanting to skip the day but not wanting to make a big drama of it too. I asked the kids, “what do you want to do on your dad’s birthday?” They all decided they wanted to have cake but overall didn’t want to make a big “to-do” about it.
I got up this morning and decided to go to Mass. My husband loved going to daily Mass as often as was possible, and I thought it might help me to feel somewhat close to him. And I did. It was nice. I only teared up but did not end up sobbing buckets like I had in the past. Progress! This evening, I gave each of the kids a new book because My Love was a reader. One of the first images that comes to my mind when I think of him is sitting at the table in the morning in his pajamas, cup of tea or coffee and a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, with a book propped open. He always had two to three books that he was alternately reading.
My favorite part of the day was when I asked the children what some of their favorite memories are of their dad. My youngest son, who was only with us 18 months when his dad died, surprised me with a really quick response and a huge smile, “My favorite memory is when I had surgery and he got me any movie I wanted to watch. Then he sat in the chair and let me sit on his lap while we watched them.” My middle son said, “I liked how when I was homeschooled that one year he’d take me to daily Mass with him. We always stopped afterward to get him coffee and he’d let me get a treat. And remember that time he let me sit in his lap in the parking lot after Mass and drive the car?” (I do remember. Middle son was 4 yrs old and in preschool. I drove into the parking lot and almost had a panic attack.) My oldest son said “My favorite is how he would come to my class and do special projects with us. And that time when our class went to watch that movie about the chimpanzees. I got scared at one point and climbed up on his lap. That was the best.” (He was in fourth grade, and My Love chaperoned every class trip and helped with every class project that year. It was the school year right before he died.) My daughter said her favorite memory was how her dad would always scoop her up to sit in his lap. How he always would read her books and make all the voices. “You don’t know how to do that Mommy. You aren’t any good at it.” She’s right. I am terrible with reading in different voices. I always forget which voice goes with which character.
As for me, my memories are legion. I could spend the next 20 years smiling and laughing sharing memories. I will leave you with this one: My Love could not, if his very life depended on it, keep a beat. He could not dance for anything and always looked as though he were some sort of long-legged bird performing some strange mating ritual. But, he knew I loved to dance, and so when we’d go to weddings, and the “Electric Slide” or “The Macarena” would come on, he’d follow me out to the dance floor and do his best. What I loved most about it is that he had an incredible ability to laugh at himself and not take himself too seriously. He really brought a lot of laughter and joy into my life. That is my favorite memory today.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Last week being Valentine’s Day and also National Catholic Marriage week, I had the opportunity to read some articles about choosing your mate. One article in particular caught my attention, not only because I agreed with a lot of the content of the post, but also because it’s a humorous blog. I like blogs that don’t take themselves too seriously. I also like the fact that their artwork are stick-figure drawings. That is my kind of blog! Actually, I should correct myself. These guys don’t have a blog, it’s a website. Read their “About” and “FAQ” sections for the clarification. You can read the entirety of “How to Pick Your Life Partner” Part 1 and Part 2, but I would like to share a few points that particularly spoke to me given the fact that I have been married, and that sometime in the future may choose to get married again.
1. Marriage isn’t some sort of club to aspire to membership in order to make yourself happy. I didn’t get married until I was 36 years old. For many years I watched my friends get married and even start families while I was still single. I felt as though I was trying to get into an exclusive club and the bouncer would say “No husband, no entry.” I was on the outside while my friends happily walked past me into the door. When I married my husband, I finally belonged to the “club.” However, My Love died, I remember thinking, “Now I am not part of the club anymore.” But getting married because all your friends are married, or because it’s so romantic (Overly Romantic Roland), or because you are afraid that the guy asking you might be your one and only chance at marriage even though in your heart you know it’s wrong (Fear-Driven Frida), is just plain stupid. Marriage is hard work. Marriage is about choosing to love someone even on the days they are not lovable. Marriage is for life people, you take a vow “till death do us part”, and that is a long time to be married to the wrong person. Most people can’t stay married, hence the high divorce rate in our country. Marriage will make you happy only if you are willing to take the good days, the bad days, and the ugly days and call all of them “good.” I love this quote by the author in Part 2
So if we want to find a happy marriage, we need to think small—we need to look at marriage up close and see that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.
2. The key ingredient is not sexual attraction, it is an “Epic Friendship.” My Love was my best friend and that friendship began six weeks before we ever went on our first date. By the time we met in person, I already knew so much about him and he about me, that we’d formed a deep friendship. I think both of us would have been devastated if somehow we not clicked on that first date. We had an epic friendship which evolved into an epic love affair, but in the end, it was our friendship more than anything else that pulled us through those mundane Wednesdays and worse.
3. Divorce is not an option. I mean, that word, “divorce,” can’t even be in your vocabulary. ”Divorce, huh? What’s that? Is that some sort of new blogging platform?” That’s how you have to treat marriage. I have a friend from high school. I went to her wedding back in the early 90′s. When they recited their vows they said, “As long as our love shall last” instead of “till death do us part.” I knew right then, seriously knew, they would get divorced. You see, even way back then, as young and inexperienced in love as I was, I knew that if you give yourself an out during your marriage vows, you aren’t going to make it. After she got back from her honeymoon she asked me what I thought, and I asked her about “as long as our love shall last” and what that is supposed to mean. She told me that she and her husband had decided that they were such good friends they would rather divorce than lose their friendship. Well, no surprise here but they got divorced because they fell out of love with one another, AND they were no longer friends. The good news is that now she has remarried, been remarried for ages, has two beautiful children and I think learned a thing or two about lasting love.
4. Which leads me to the obvious, Love is a decision. You know, there are going to be times when you are going to look at your spouse and think, “What kind of alien are you and how do I get my husband/wife back?” The glow of the honeymoon fades pretty quickly when you settle into everyday life, as you grow your family, finances become pinched, or other challenges hit you. Just as every day we need to wake up and choose Christ, so too, we need to wake up each day and choose to love our spouse, even when she is acting like a banshee or he’s being an ogre.
Tim Urban also mentions “the feeling of home.” This is something I never felt in past relationships until I met my husband. Trust, security, acceptance of all of who I am, and chemistry created in me a feeling of having found my home. As I have mentioned more than once, when all the world would seem to crumble around me and I’d feel weak under the pressure of it, I could walk into my husband’s arms and his embrace let me know that whatever it was, whatever the situation, we would face it together. He’d be at my side and I could trust him to stay there until I was on the other side.
Now, it’s your turn, what advice would you give single women and men who are looking for a spouse? What is the best advice you ever received?
~ The Reluctant Widow
Today, I am linking up my post with “7 Posts in 7 Days” challenge that the fabulous Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary is hosting. I did this challenge last July and while it was very challenging to come up with ideas for seven days in a row, and to find the time to write them. Believe me, there might be a few this week that get posted at 11:59pm, but they will be posted every day. Visit Jen to read her entries and to find others who are participating in the challenge.
This year being my year of “Release” and the fact that I have “Enough,” I decided this year would be the year I release some things from my house. I am by no means a minimalist – yet – but I find that the sheer number of things in my life, stuff, is weighing me down. We had a couple of months flu and sickness in our house beginning right before Christmas. It left my house looking less than tidy. Frankly, it looked like one of those abandoned houses, except we were living there. I never really go for “clean” because it just doesn’t happen with four children. I could spend hours each day cleaning, and within minutes of their return home, the house would look as though I hadn’t done anything at all. The truth is, I became a bit of a “messy” when I moved out of my parents’ home. It was my little act of rebellion against my mother’s slightly obsessive/perfectionist cleaning habit. Then I married someone who was slightly messy too, so all was good. However, add four children into that mix, and all is not good because children aren’t just slightly messy yet know where to find things when they want them. No, they are messy and can’t remember where they put things. Not only that, they take my things and move them to where I don’t know where to find them. Now that’s messing with my mojo. The solution is easy, get rid of things, pare down, organize, right? Well, that is part of it. However, I find that I have been perpetually organizing for years and yet I am still overwhelmed with things. What’s the deal?
The deal, I realized a couple of weeks ago, is that yes, I organize, and yes, I give unwanted things away, but then I go out and buy more things that we “need.” Guess what? We don’t really need them. Not really. I decided, “enough!” This commitment to release “things” is not just about reducing the clutter in my house, but it’s also about releasing the attachment to buying things that are not absolutely essential to our basic needs. I am going on a spending fast. For the next 30 days, I am not going to buy anything that is non-essential, and that includes all the little things that kids say that they need. ”Mommy, I just HAVE to have $20 for the Scholastic book order,” my daughter pleaded the other day. Really? I think we just attended the school book fair where I made a hefty purchase of books because you know, “it’s for the children and reading is good for them.” Trust me when I say that our house does not need any more books. I doubt my children have read all these books at least once. I want to put my kids’ names on some sort of parochial school “do not solicit” list because every week it is something, and of course, the kids always say, “but it’s for the school Mommy” and look at me with their sad puppy eyes. Having this spending fast will be a great way to buttress up my defenses in the light of this arm twisting.
Just like with cutting out unhealthy eating habits, kicking an addition to alcohol or drugs, kicking the spending habit is hard too, especially when you feel like you have the money, or “it’s just $20.” But all that money adds up over time, and more importantly it creates more clutter in my home that I either a) have to clean up or b) causes me stress. Releasing things will bring peace to more than one area of my life. Let the spending fast and clutter purge begin!
~ The Reluctant Widow
Today marks three years since my good friend, Shannon, died after a rough but valiant fight against Fibrosarcoma. She was so young (34). She fought so hard to stay alive for her husband and her three young children (at the time, ages 8, 6, and almost four). I remember sitting at her house that day that she left this earth, the going in to her room to see her and hug her one last time. It was so hard for her to breath, and took all her energy to stay upright in her chair. We both made the “I love you” sign with our hands and touched them together. I wasn’t there when she took her final breath passing from this life to eternal life in Heaven. I had gone out to run some errands for her husband, to get some things that Shannon really wanted for the children, but a number of our “Moms” group from our parish were there to surround her bed and pray her home to Jesus.
To me, I think it’s interesting that she died on February 11, 2011 because February 11 is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The October before she died, Shannon and her husband had the opportunity to travel to Lourdes, France, to visit the shrine and to pray for healing. She shared many beautiful moments from the trip with me and our friend, Burnedette, but one in particular really stuck out to me. She mentioned that there was a wall that had some roses growing through some cracks in the masonry. She said one night she prayed to God to give her a sign whether she was going to live or whether she would die. She said let there be a red rose if she would live and a white rose if she were going to die. The next day, she visited and there was a rose in bloom. It was pink. God was reserving for Himself the knowledge of Shannon’s future. Scripture tells us that none of us knows whether we will see tomorrow and we are not promised another day. I believe though, that if Shannon really could have chosen the day she would be with Jesus in Heaven, she would have chosen February 11th.
Love you so much dear friend. Pray for me. I remember you in the Eucharist.
~ The Reluctant Widow
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
Lyrics to the first stanza of The Sound of Silence performed by Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon
Darkness was not my friend during the first year of widowhood, nor was silence. I dreaded them both and so did whatever I could to avoid them. The dark and the silence, if not kept at bay, brought too many raw emotions. Memories would flood in, tears would fall, emotions would rage like an angry sea, and so I filled up the hours after the children went to bed with television. I watched every episode of shows like Kingdom, Doc Martin, Downton Abby, The Forsyte Saga and many, many more. If there was a movie on Netflix based upon a classic book, I watched it. Jane Austen, check. Elizabeth Gaskell, check. Thomas Hardy, check (depressing), the Bronte sisters, check, check. I consumed more television in that year than I had in the previous 10 years, all in an effort to fill the hours of silence. I would watch late into the evening until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and would fall into a restless and dreamless sleep.
My feelings about the darkness and silence began to shift shortly after the first anniversary of my husband’s death. In the Fall of 2013, I decided to take “Story 101″ and through that course I learned how to embrace the darkness and the silence. It is for the current students of the class that I am really writing this post. You see, it was when I learned to embrace the silence, that I was able to envision a future for myself. I had wanted to be a writer for so long, and yet felt I had nothing of value to say. Elora and the other women in my Story 101 class gave me the encouragement and push that I needed to discover my voice, and to begin to see myself as a writer. When Elora declared a week of silence though, that is when I began to realize that silence was my greatest writing tool. When I shut out the noise that I had surrounded myself with, I could begin to hear my own thoughts. Ideas flooded my mind, and creativity burst forth. The surest way for my pen to become silent is for me to fill up my nights with noise from television and social media. Listening to the sound of silence, as Simon and Garfunkel words say, I was able to hear the vision my heart was cultivating for my creative future. Suddenly, I was embracing the silence and even craving it.
Prompt: How do feel about silence? Is it your friend or is it a foe? If you are uncomfortable with silence, what are you trying to avoid? What can you do this week to see silence as your friend, to see silence as a tool in your creative toolbox?
~ The Reluctant Widow