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Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'm not a single parent...

The first thing I usually do in the morning is check the widow blogs I follow to see how everyone is doing. It usually helps me get through the day feeling not so isolated in my experience of the world right now.

This morning I read this one: Widow's Voice Blog and it resonated with me. Especially the part where she makes the distinction between being an "only parent, not just a single one".

I've tried to rationalize my plight to myself by telling myself there are a million single parents out there and if they can do it, so can I. But it's never really quelled my frustrations with doing this alone. And here's why: I am the ONLY one who will ever kiss a boo-boo, clap at their school play, get on them for bad grades, talk to them about their first boyfriends, hug them and kiss them goodnight, make sure all the presents are under the tree and that Santa didn't forget something, make their lunches for school, help with homework, take them to the doctor, take them to the park, encourage them to follow their dreams and believe in them that they can acheive them...

I don't have the luxury of another parent getting visitation with the kids every other weekend and on Wednesdays so I can have a break and some time to myself. I don't have someone else who will also lecture them about bad grades and making the right decisions in life. There is no one who might be able to take the day off work when they're sick because I don't have any more sick days left to take. I don't have anyone else who will show up to support them at soccer games, or pick them up from school if I'm running late, or who will be a confidant to them when they are mad at me but still need someone to talk to. I don't have a co-pilot in this thing.

I realize that divorced people don't always have that either, but the vast majority of them do. They both get to have a role in their child's life and participate in parenting. They have the option of deciding to be a part of the child's life- they make the choice about how involved they are going to be. We didn't get that option and it pisses me off.

I don't want to be the only parent...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Avoidance...

I have put a deadline on myself to do all the stuff around the house that I need to do during my spring break which is coming up in a few weeks. I’ve been avoiding most of it because it’s just been too much to think about, but I think I’ll feel a lot better if I get it all accomplished.

My grief counselor calls this “instrumental” grief. Grieving through doing tasks or projects. Planning the 5k in honor of Andie is a perfect example of how one “instrumentally grieves” she said. She told me that people who grieve this way tend to be less emotional in their grief- less feelers and more doers, which made me feel less like a freak for not crying all the time like I think I should be doing. I have really felt like there was something wrong with me because I’m not an emotional wreck on most days of the week. Not to say that I don’t have crying attacks and days where I feel like I could cry at the drop of a hat, but for the most part I just go about my day feeling wistful and nostalgic, wishing he were still here, but not a blubbering mess.

On the list of things to do:
1. Re-arrange my bedroom and put up a fresh coat of paint.
2. Organize the funeral memorabilia and find a place to store it.
3. Organize my office; file all the paperwork, bills, and forms associated with death. Shred what is no longer needed.
4. File our taxes. I’ve been avoiding this one since there is a bunch of new stuff to consider this year like the fact that I’ve receive social security income and life insurance, and we have a ton of medical bills related to the night he died that we might be able to deduct. When I got Andie’s w-2 in the mail I opened it and it was about half the amount that he usually makes. I almost called the HR department at his company thinking some huge error had been made- then it hit me…He only lived half of the year, only worked half of the year, and therefore only earned half of what he usually did. UGH! Grief bites you in the butt in the strangest ways.
5. Paint the living room.
6. Consider packing up or getting rid of some of Andie’s belongings…pretty sure nobody wants to hold onto his underwear and socks for sentimental reasons so that might be a good place to start.

I try to avoid the “in your face” tasks that remind me so clearly that he is gone. And I do pretty well at it most of the time, but I have to start moving forward at least in small measure so I’m doing what I do best: making a list and setting a goal. We’ll see how far it gets me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The ripple effect...

The irony in all of this is that those who were closest to me before Andie died are now the ones I find myself having difficulty relating to. There is a sense of disconnect that has slowly crept in. I have changed so much that they can no longer relate to me as the “old” Brooke, and I can no longer relate to them as the “old” them. I have been forced to evolve into a different person and they have not. They have not changed and grown with me and so it seems we have grown apart. The old expectations they had of who I was, how I would react to things, how I think about things, is no longer valid and they are left not knowing who I really am anymore. Most days I don’t even know who I am anymore, so how could they possibly be expected to know me. They try to interact and relate to me in the same ways as before but it results in a hollow feeling for me. Sometimes it feels forced or contrived. I don’t know if they feel it too, or if this is a one-sided observation on my part that we just aren’t clicking like we used to.

We are out of step and out of sync. With me being several paces ahead of them in some areas and several paces behind in others, but never quite getting into the right rhythm together. It’s not really fair to expect the rest of the world to undergo this growth process with me step by step, but in the end I believe some will get left behind because they aren’t keeping pace with me. I find myself nodding my head and smiling in agreement with people, and inside all I can think is, “You just don’t get it.” But that is through no fault of their own, thank God they can’t actually relate to where I’m at- I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. This is not a judgement of others, but merely observation of how things have changed in my life.

This is the strange ripple effect of death; it doesn’t just take the person who actually dies. It takes all those around the dead person with it, and irrevocably changes who they are and who they will become. The closer you are to the one who dies, the more you are changed. And by extension of that, it changes how all those people relate to each other. But all of this is unspoken and everyone seems to be bewildered and unable to put their finger on what is so different. Nevertheless, it is different. So very different that it’s palpable, yet unexplainable.

Strangely I feel at peace with this. It is sad to think of losing friends or people who have been close to me, but I understand that it is probably the natural course of things so I’m not angry or resentful. I’m just aware that it might happen.

I feel like they want to hold onto the “old” me as much as I want to hold on to Andie, but the brutal truth is that the “old” me died with him.

And neither one of us is coming back…

Highs and lows...

Will the highs ever stop being outweighed and interrupted by the lows? This is of course a rhetorical question. The answer is probably never, it might get better, but I suspect there will always be the tinge of bittersweet.

Last night Allie walked on her own for the first time. This is a HUGE milestone for her; she has had some hip problems and has had a very difficult time learning to walk because her hip is rotated and not aligned properly. We've been doing physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments and she has made vast improvements in the past couple of weeks.

Last night I was playing with the girls in their room. We were all having the best time rolling around and rough housing. I was doing a bunch of tickling, just soaking in the sounds of their wonderful laughter. While we were playing Allie stood up and walked about 5 steps to me all on her own, completely unsupported. I was so excited and started clapping. Then Addie started clapping for Allie too, and Allie was so proud of herself. She did it several more times and we kept playing.

Then I came crashing down when I realized how proud Andie would be and how excited he would have been to see this happen. So there I am laying on the girls' bedroom floor sobbing. Of course they're wondering what the hell just happened since seconds before we were all giggling.

I managed to pull myself together but was full of tension and irritability for the rest of the evening. When I finally got myself to bed the tears came back again. All I can think is... Why? Why did this ever have to happen? Why me? Why them? Then I got angry with God, then I got angry with Andie for leaving. Irrational, yes- but it's what we grievers do. I cried so hard I had to remind myself to breath. Big, racking sobs...until I fell asleep.

And that is what life is like in the Simmons household these days. Highs and lows, laughter and crying, joy and pain.
All cohabitating...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding my way back...

So I went to my grief counseling group today and one of the things the counselor talked about is how when we grieve our immediate reaction is to try to go back to the past in our minds and relive the good and happy times with the person we lost, rather than moving forward through the death and subsequent grieving process. We do it because that is what's comfortable. And the past is where we'd rather be...with the one we loved and lost. We do this by reliving memories and consciously trying to hold onto the essence of the person.

The mind tries to find it's way back to where it wants to be. What I have found though, is that the more I try to remember him and conjure specific memories, the more they elude me. Just as I begin to grasp a memory it slips away and is replaced by my memories of the day he died. My grief counselor says this is normal at first especially if the loss was traumatic, but with time the happy memories come back and often we don't know what triggers them.

Sure enough, this past week I have been flooded with memories that come whenever they see fit. They don't ask my permission. They come and surround me with their comfort. They have been triggered by songs, smells, sounds, and even strangers. I have relished in it this week, but it also brings so many emotions as I have to constantly face the fact that they are just that- memories, and no longer my reality. The sting of disappointment and disbelief is still raw and painful.

I would do anything in this world to be with him again, to find my way back to him. Wishing my life away until the day I meet him in heaven is not above me. But I know that my only realistic option is to keep him alive through my memory so I am desperately trying to grasp onto any and every moment in time we had, no matter how small in the hopes that I just might...

find my way back to him.



Friday, February 18, 2011

Soul Searching

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” – C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed

Andie has been gone 8 months today and through a lot of reading, research, and deep soul searching, this is what I’ve come to know.

We all think we know so much about the world and the way it works. But we really don’t truly know much at all. I was na├»ve enough to think that I knew happiness, sorrow, joy, and pain in my former life…but what I’ve come to truly know is that I only understood those things on a fractional and miniscule level, through the hazy perceptions of what had been taught to me or what I had experienced in my relatively easy life. It is through the difficult, bring you to your knees, make you want to die moments that the veil is lifted and you are awakened to what is truly there at the deepest, purest level. This is when the “aha” moment occurs and you finally “get it”.

When I use the word “know” I mean at a level that is deep within you, that shakes you to your core, that nobody can reach save for God and maybe yourself. To know with a conviction and with a purpose.

You cannot know light unless you have known darkness.
You cannot know joy unless you have felt despair.
You cannot know gratitude unless you have been in need.
You cannot know love unless you have been alone.
You cannot know comfort unless you have been in pain.
You cannot feel exhilarated unless you have been loathsome.
You cannot find yourself unless you have been lost.
You cannot triumph unless you have failed.
You cannot find strength unless you have been tested.
And I dare say…
You cannot know God and have faith in him unless you have had a reason to know him.

If there have been no trials, tribulations, or tragedies in your life to test your faith, then how can you possibly know how to call upon that faith? You can’t until you have to…up until then it’s all theory and conjecture.

The veil has been lifted and I see the world as I’ve never seen it before. I consider things from a new perspective, believe in things I once doubted, and know things in a way I don’t think I could have ever come to understand had I not been forced to go through this process. It’s akin to not having a true idea of what parenthood is like until you’re in the middle of it. You think you know…but you don’t really know.

Despite the fact that there is a gaping hole, there is a depth and richness to my life that was probably always there but only now am I able to acknowledge it and appreciate it. Though there are questions, there is a deeper spiritual connection. A stronger faith- not only in the existence of a God, but a faith in myself.

There is a sense of knowing. Of being privy to information that the rest of the world is not. I feel like I know some of the secrets of the universe now. I value people and relationships more than ever. The focus on career, salary, material things is no longer meaningful. Things that people around me focus on and worry about seem petty and inconsequential, and it is though my heart gets a sly smile as if to say, “if only you knew, if only”. I feel more grounded, more confident. I feel truer to myself than I have ever been. There is a sense of being on the “right” path, though I never knew I was on the wrong path before. I have an inner serenity that I’ve never felt. My eyes have been opened in a way that I cannot even put into words. I have been enlightened. I get it, I finally get it.

I have come to understand that God gives us the negatives so that we can then, and only then, truly understand, know, and appreciate the positives by comparison. It is so we can appreciate the difference, because we cannot have one without the other.

“I once was blind, but now I see” - John 9:25

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Run for your life, Remember his...



I am honored to announce that we will be hosting an annual 5k Memorial Run (or walk if you like) in honor of Andie. The benefits will go to the Guadalupe County 100 Club, an organization whose mission is to provide immediate financial assistance to families of public safety officers and firefighters who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, and to provide resources to enhance their safety and welfare. This organization came to my aid soon after losing Andie and helped raise a significant amount of money for the girls' college fund. It's time for me to pay it forward and help the next unfortunate family in need.

The event will take place on the one year anniversary of his passing: June 18, 2011 The run will be in the morning and will be followed by a BBQ lunch at Starcke Park in Seguin, TX. All proceeds will benefit the 100 Club.

Here's the nitty gritty details:

What: The Triple A 5k Run/Walk
Date: Saturday, June 18, 2011
Time: Run starts at 8:30, food will be served from 11:00-2:30
Where: Max Starcke Park, Seguin TX
Price: Advance registration fee for the run is $20 and $7 for a BBQ plate. Day of the event price for the run is $25 and $8 for a BBQ plate. (Registration for the run includes a T-shirt)
Donations are also accepted gladly.

Sign up now at Active.com- the first 100 registrants will receive a high-tech T-shirt. Donations can also be made at Active.com (Search: Triple A 5k)

Here's the link...do it now!

Triple A 5k

Hope to see you all there! Don't forget....

"RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, REMEMBER HIS"

Friday, February 11, 2011

Approval ratings...

I don’t know if I’ve always been so concerned with obtaining the approval of others...probably, but it’s hard to remember how I was before Andie died. But now the need for approval is magnified. All it takes is one raised eyebrow or comment to send my confidence plummeting and I’m second guessing myself. I’ve had a really weird week. I haven’t been overly emotional or sad, but I have felt very “blah”. Others can sense it too. I’ve been asked several times this week, “Is everything okay? You seem…” I usually cut them off before they can finish the sentence. I plaster on the smile and make up some excuse as to why I look like I’m about to lose it. You know…fake it til you make it!

I haven’t blogged much and haven’t touched my journal in weeks. There hasn’t been much to write about because I’m back in that place of feeling like I’ve already written about everything that I’m feeling right now, it’s all just cycling back around again. Same song, second verse.

Still feeling completely shocked that this is permanent. Still missing the comfort of Andie’s touch. Still wishing he could see how much the girls are growing and changing. Still feeling ambivalent about my future. Still wanting to change everything about my life while at the same time wanting to change nothing at all. Still amazed at how almost everything I say, do, think, and feel revolves around him or reminds me of him. Still feeling like the person I once was died with him, and I’m having to rebuild and redefine who I am. Still angry that this new life was forced upon me and not anything I had a choice in. Still feeling like I’m right where I started. Just moving in circles and continuing to come back to the same place in this journey over and over again.

Some weird feelings of a strong desire to “move on” have hit me this week. I haven’t felt that before, but this week I have this need to abruptly slam the door on this life, dust off my hands, and try to forget it even existed. Then I feel guilty for thinking that way and become very sad and morose.
I’ve even thought about whether or not I want to date someone. Gasp!! Mainly because I’m so very lonely and I miss the attention and companionship of a man. And I’ve been reading about other widows who have found love again and have “success” stories- I want to be in that club instead of this club. And mostly because the topic is starting to come up in conversation with others much more frequently.
Subtle comments and hints from others about “when” not “if” I decide to find someone else are working their way into conversation. A few weeks ago someone even asked me when I’m going to stop wearing my ring. “When I don’t feel married anymore,” was my response. I feel like others want me to start moving in that direction so then I feel pressured to do so just to make them comfortable- this is where the approval issue comes in. Sometimes I even preemptively joke about it so it's not the proverbial elephant in the room- hoping to alleviate everyone else's discomfort about the question hanging in the air..."When will she move on?"
Wanting to please the world, as if to say, “See, I’m grieving the "right" way. I’ve mourned the requisite amount of time and am moving on in a healthy manner, thank you very much." Trying to strike the perfect balance, neither wallowing in my grief, nor pushing past it too fast. When I actually picture myself with someone else I have a strong urge to vomit, so I know I’m not ready for that.

I know I can only do this at my own pace, in my own way, (as most of you will probably comment) but my confidence in everything has been shaken and I’m left just wanting everyone’s approval. I’m terrified of making a wrong decision in any aspect of my life. Whether or not to date, whether or not to build a house or move, whether or not to stay in the same career, whether or not to spend money in a frivolous manner by completely redecorating my whole house, whether or not to allow my kids to have one more cupcake after dinner. I don’t want to be the girl that everyone whispers about in hushed conversation because they don’t agree with the decisions I’m making, or worse yet think I'm absolutely crazy.

I know I shouldn’t care what others think, but I do. I can’t help it.
I just want my approval ratings to be good…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's all about you...

Something he used to say to me all the time was “It’s all about you.” Sometimes it was completely sincere, like on my birthday or if he was just feeling particularly sweet he would say “Today is all about you babe. We can do whatever you want to do today.” Sometimes if I was being selfish or demanding he would say with a hint of sarcasm, “Oh, today is all about you I see.” And it would bring me back to reality and help me realize I needed to think outside myself for the moment. Or if we just couldn’t decide what we wanted for dinner he would say, “Whatever you want…it’s all about you.”

The truth was, to him, it really was all about me. I was the center of his world and he let me know it. And he let everyone else know it too; not that he gushed about me to other people all the time, but you could tell by the way he looked at me, by the way he respected me, by the way he treated me. One of the most treasured conversations I’ve had since he’s been gone was with one of his really good friends from work. He called me a few days after Andie died and cried on the phone with me. He told me how much I meant to Andie, that I was his whole world, that he loved me more than anything, and he talked about me all the time. This friend even said he hoped that he and his wife could have the kind of love that Andie and I had. What we had was that good...it was something that others envied and wanted to emulate.

Even though to Andie it was always all about me, I felt the same for him. I made decisions based on what I thought would make him happy. We placed each other before ourselves and I believe that is what made our relationship so strong. We were always wanting to please each other and do things that would make the other happy. Self-sacrificing for the greater good of the marriage. It wasn’t something we talked about, we just did it. We put each other first. So while he felt it was all about me…it really was all about him in my eyes. I feel so very grateful to have been able to experience love and commitment like we had. I don't think I'll ever be lucky enough to find it again.


This song is what got me thinking about all of this today because I know it’s exactly how Andie felt.





But really…
It’s still all about you babe.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Therapy

I went to my first “young widows” grief group today, and by young widows they mean under age 55. I was by far the youngest widow there and the only one with small children. The other women had teenage or grown children. Some were on their second marriages and had step-children. One lady had been married longer than I've been alive. So I didn’t quite feel like I was in the company of my peers, though I realize a 30 year old widow with toddlers is probably quite rare…except that I know so many from the blogging world. I was just hoping that I might find somebody close to home that I could forge a friendship with.

I was in the middle in terms of how far out I was from my loss. The newest was 4 weeks and the longest was 3 years. So again, not really in the company of my peers. The newer widows are still in the worst, shocking, painful part…while I have processed some of that and am trying to gain my footing with who I have to become now. I am in the growth and rediscovery stage, which the widows who are farther out have already sort of grasped. The positive side of this is that perhaps we will all have some insights to give each other about the different stages.

The other way I felt very different from the group is that I work in the psychology field. I’ve racked up a couple of degrees in psychology. It’s what I do, it’s what I know, it’s how I function. Most of the time when I process things with my best friend (also in the psychology field) it’s like I’m doing therapy on myself. Using the techniques on myself that I would on a client- then my friend gets her turn at me so I feel like I have a built in therapeutic support system.

Honestly, in a therapeutic setting it’s hard to impress me. It's like playing chess with a really good opponent who is always thinking a step ahead of you...I usually know what's coming and what direction it's going to go. It’s hard to counsel the counselor so to speak.

I know all the ins and outs of how therapy is supposed to work. I know the theories and techniques, I know how group therapy dynamics are made and broken, I have the insider’s point of view. It’s kind of like knowing the secret to a magic trick- it loses its luster when you see the trick performed once you know it’s all just sleight of hand.

So today, I felt like I knew what cards the therapist was holding before we even got started. And true to form she followed the script pretty much as I imagined she would. Not to say that it wasn’t helpful information, it just wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. And I had to consciously remind myself to stop my internal dialogue when the other women were talking, to stop diagnosing them in my head and thinking of which way I would handle it if I was the therapist. And those of my psychology friends out there reading this will recognize my stand-by defense mechanisms of rationalization and intellectualizing have reared their ugly heads, and just to keep it interesting I've added a hint of narcissism to the mix. I know I need to get out of my head and deal with some real emotions...that's why I joined the group. So anyway, I didn’t walk away feeling enlightened or any more connected to anyone like I had hoped.

Granted, it was only the first session and the basics had to be gotten out of the way. I’m hoping that the next sessions will push my boundaries and force me to allow the therapy to work, and not let me get away with working the therapy.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cheated

It snowed today. In Texas. The girls will likely not see this happen again for another 15-20 years so we took advantage of the opportunity and let them play in the snow. They had fun for about 10 minutes and then got bored, and I got cold. Inside we went....


We decided to make cupcakes because the girls turned 18 months old today. It was their 1 1/2 year birthday so we decided to celebrate...that was Grandma's great idea. They even got to help make the cupcakes- such big girls!

Of course, the best part was getting to eat the cupcakes! They each got 2...most of it ending up on their laps and the floor, but it sure was fun! And they smelled like icing for the rest of the afternoon!

While they were napping I came across an old picture of Andie and I. It was taken just a few months after we got engaged when we thought we had our whole lives ahead of us, and it made me really sad... it reminded me of how little time we actually had together. I started reminiscing and trying to figure out exactly how long he was part of my life. He kissed me for the first time on April 11, 2001- I remember it like it was yesterday and then I realize he was not even "mine" for a whole decade.

He was part of my life and my good friend since I was 19, but not truly mine for a whole decade and I’m left feeling so cheated. I cry in the shower thinking of how little time we had and absent-mindedly draw a heart in the condensation on the shower door. Almost as quick as I can draw it the water drips and blurs the lines making it almost indistinguishable. I draw it again. As quick as I finish drawing it, it vanishes before my eyes- just like our time together. I'm left feeling like what we had was nothing but a mirage. Something you think you see, but it's not quite tangible, and the closer you get to it the more you wonder if it was real at all. It just seems like he slipped through my fingers...It all went by so fast.


Drawing the heart on the shower door reminds me of the times when one of us would write a little love note in the steam on the mirror while the other was in the shower. And the time years ago when he left dozens of post-it notes around my apartment on which he'd written "I love you". He hid them in places so I was finding them for weeks...my linen closet, the pantry, the junk drawer, the medicine cabinet...they were everywhere. I saved them all for a while, but years later I eventually threw them away thinking that a pile of random post-it notes wasn’t very meaningful after all those years, in comparison to all the other love notes and cards he had given me. I’d give anything for that stack of post-it notes today. For a simple love note in the steam on the mirror when I get out of the shower. For one more tangible thing...just a simple thing to prove that it was all real.


Anyway, it wasn't a horrible day, it wasn't a great day...just one in which I constantly had a feeling that he was missing out on so much. The first time for the girls to see snow. The fun we had making and eating cupcakes to celebrate their "half birthday". The mundane and simple moments shared with the girls, many of which happen every day.


I just feel like I got cheated. More than that, the girls got cheated. He got cheated. Like we weren't told the rules of the game before we agreed to play.
And there is just no way I can make it all right...


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thanks for the sunshine...

Today the cold rolled back in to Texas. The past few days have been unseasonably warm. Yesterday was 78 degrees and I took a jog with the girls and enjoyed the sunshine. This song came on my ipod while we were out and it made me think of Andie. He knew how much I hate the cold and I imagined him sending me a little extra burst of sunshine yesterday just to brighten my day.

Exerpts from "Somewhere Down in Texas" by Jason Boland

In a place that big a man could get lost
never mind the time, forget about the cost.
There’s more important things.
Shes' somewhere smiling north of San Antone.
I've got her number but I stare at the phone.
Cause I still want to believe.

Cause no matter how big the storms I know I can find me a place that's warm.
The sun is shining somewhere in Texas.
I hope it's shining on her

Somewhere down in Texas.



I got the sunshine you sent yesterday babe!