Saturday, January 29, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

Well, I'm settling in to Austin okay, but slowly. I think I'm dragging my feet a little because I just don't quite know what to do or how to start creating this entirely new life, entirely on my own.

I realized the the other day that I'm thinking in a negative way a lot lately -- when things go wrong for me, I think, "I wouldn't be in this position if Brian were still here," or "I never should have been facing this, let alone on my own." I think that when I can't get something hung on the wall correctly, when a few texts exchanged or a little internet "research" show me that the cute guy at the bar is not a viable prospect for me, when my phone breaks, when I struggle to figure out the next step in my professional and social life. I'm playing the victim card. Well, not playing it, I guess -- I'm not using it as an excuse, or hoping people will cut me some slack -- but it is in my hand, and I'm well aware. It's time for me to put it in the discard pile and draw a new card.

I don't know how to go about this, exactly. I realize that I struggle with decisions, especially those involving guys -- should I start dating? How? Should I actually call this guy? How do guys know when it is a "just friends" thing or a date? What did he mean when he said x or y? How can I tell if he is into me? My uncertainty stems from a lack of experience. I've literally never been through the traditional "start dating, then enter an exclusive relationship and call each other boyfriend and girlfriend" thing. Never. Brian and I started "going out" and holding hands in the hallway when we were 15 and 17, before I was even allowed to go on "dates." How do adults do this? Do I even want to do that yet? Is my fear and hesitation because I really don't want to date, because I'm not ready, or because I'm afraid of the unknown? I don't know, in part because I don't know myself. I'm still not used to being on my own, to making my own decisions, and I'm terribly self-critical and self-analytical. Am I over-analyzing everything, or I am giving decisions the appropriate amount of thought and critique?

I've realized that I'm still discovering what I like and who I am, compared to who I was with Brian. In every relationship, each partner's personality changes a bit and each person bends a little to accommodate the other. No one is exactly the same in a relationship as they are outside one -- show me someone who is, and I'll show you someone whose relationship is doomed for failure. You compromise everything, from what to watch on TV to when or if you will try to have children. I'm finding that I don't care as much about mixed martial arts as I once did; I guess that interest was mostly due to Brian's influence. I love football more than ever though; that is now wholly a part of me, even without him in my life. I definitely am making braver fashion choices -- glittery eye makeup, feathered hair accessories, skinny jeans, knee-high boots. I've even bought things in the past year thinking, "Brian would have hated this, but I like it, so I'm buying it," knowing I wouldn't have done that before. I'm eating more vegan and organic foods, though I rarely watch The Food Network, as we used to do frequently.

So who am I? Am I outgoing, or was that part of me developed to cope with/compete with Brian's loud, boisterous personality? I've become more and more of a homebody. Is that who I am? I'm taking more chances in life -- was that always a part of my personality, one that got suppressed for the sake of happiness within a loving and happy marriage to a man who was much more risk-averse? Or am I taking more chances because I have nothing left to lose? Not only do I not know who I am, but I also don't know who I ever really was. How much of my personality is due to Brian's influence? Due to his death? Due to my inherent nature?

In the end, I suppose it doesn't matter why I am who I am now -- just that I am. It doesn't matter if I always had more wanderlust than him or whether that is something that is just developing in my personality. The fact is, I want to explore and travel, and I've indulged that through several trips this year and by moving to a new city and starting fresh. Does it really matter why I want what I want, so long as I know what I want?

The problem is, I still don't know what I want or who I am....I guess that is part of the journey. Realizing this, though, is definitely a bit discouraging -- it makes me feel insecure, unsure about myself and the next step. It's also a reminder of how severe and long-lasting the impact of losing Brian is in my life. Okay, so I know I can survive without him -- I've made it over a year already. And I know the pain lessens, and the many, many happy memories remain and give me reason to smile. I'm even getting to some measure of acceptance, of knowing that his death was what was pre-destined, part of a greater plan. I might not ever understand it, but I do believe that. But I'm still struggling with carving my own way, with discovering myself, with knowing how to strike out and make a life on my own. I guess this is one way in which widowhood is different than most other types of grief -- you lose that other half of your life, your goals, your plans, your dreams...the other half of you. And then you no longer know who you are.

A lot of books I read about grief, particularly widows' grief, likened the loss of a loved one to a feeling of being in a foreign land with no maps and no guidebooks. For some reason, that analogy never really resonated with me until now. Maybe because I'm ready to start my new life, finally, and I realize it's terrifying and unknown, and at a time where I feel incomplete, like I'm missing my other half. I have to take steps toward something --some new goal, some new life -- but what? How do I know which way to start walking when I don't even know who I am, what I want, or where I'm heading?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Save the Date

Well, I made it through that dreaded date -- January 17. The one year anniversary of my husband's death. In some ways, it seems like time has flown; at the same time, this has been the longest year of my life. In a sense, it also feels like time has stood still, even though a lot has changed in my life beyond the obvious.

I'm finally in Austin for good and am able to focus on setting my new life. The last couple of months I've been shuttling back and forth between here and Iowa, tying up loose ends with the house, traveling for family holiday celebrations and weddings, and visiting family.

I spent the weekend leading up to the 17th at home (when I say "home" now, I mean my place in Austin), doing more unpacking and organizing. That Sunday, I went for a run in the rain, I watched the Bears trounce the Seahawks to secure a spot in the NFC Championship game, and I played in my skeeball league. That night, I started completing tasks from my to-do list and packing for a 4 day trip to visit my grandparents.

On the 17th, I woke up and started taking care of more errands -- sign and return a document necessary for the closing of my house, catch up on a few e-mails, etc. In the midst of preparing for my trip, I found that one of my cats had taken it upon herself to use the bed in the guest bedroom as a personal litter box. Sigh. Just what I needed to start an already crummy day off. I stripped the bed, threw out a bunch of bedding (I didn't think it matched that room anyway, and wasn't going to take the chance by keeping anything with that smell, even after washing), and used a generous amount of "Dumb Cat" treatment/cleaner on the mattress to eliminate the scent and presence of any enzymes that might have been left behind.

Of course, finding this on the morning that I was taking off for the week was very stressful. I worried about what was wrong -- was one of them sick? Feeling neglected? Stressed out? Had I just not kept the litter box clean enough? So I spent a couple hours making things less disorganized -- I put a book shelf that had been sitting in the middle of the living/dining room area in my bedroom, against the wall. I stacked up totes and took things off the floor that I was in the middle of sorting. I cleaned the litter boxes thoroughly. I made a point of having solo time with each cat before I left. I made arrangements for some friends to check on the cats two times in four days. (I don't know what specifically caused this issue, but my response seems to have quelled the problem.)

After doing all this, I got in the car and drove 5 hours south to Donna, Texas, where my grandparents live for the winter. My grandpa ("Poppo") had a stroke a couple weeks ago and is spending a couple weeks in a rehab facility while he undergoes several types of therapy to regain his strength, coordination, balance, speech, and cognitive abilities. My mom, aunts, and I are sort of taking "shifts" to make sure they have the help and company they need. I left about 11:15 a.m. and got to my destination at about 4:15. Having a long drive gave me a little time to think, but I was really focused on my grandparents, my cats, the upcoming closing on my house, and my to-do list. I really didn't have much capacity or time to think about the significance of the date, which I think was a good thing. Those things -- although all stressors -- helped me get through the day, which is all I could hope for. One day at a time, right? That's been my mantra to this point, and I had plenty of distractions to get me through the day. In addition, I had a wonderful outpouring of love and support from friends and family -- calls, e-mails, Facebook messages and wall posts, and texts from so many people poured in, and that was a nice thing. I really appreciated knowing that so many people remembered the date, were remembering Brian, and were thinking about and praying for me. It really lifted my spirits.

In Donna, I stayed with my grandma ("Mommo") and would keep her company every day until it was time to go visit Poppo (he is in therapy all day so can't really receive visitors until 3:30 or so), at which point we'd drive to the rehab facility to visit. We'd spend a few hours there every day, visiting before, during, and after supper. It was great to see them, and to be able to get down there on such short notice. I feel lucky that the timing worked out that I could just drive down and be there when needed without worrying about missing work and making flight arrangements.

Poppo is doing much better. When I walked in on Monday, he waved with his right hand and arm (it was his right side that was affected). He was using his right hand to eat, drink, use the remote control, and to get in and out of bed. He also progressed in his therapy to the point that he was walking with a cane before I left. Just in the few days I was there, I saw him make great progress in every area -- how much he was talking, the way he put sentences together and joined in conversations, getting in and out of bed, eating, walking, etc. It's always worrisome when something like this happens to someone you love, but it's worse when you're far away and you can't get a good sense of how things are going. It was very much a relief to see him with my own eyes, to be able to drive Mommo around and keep her company, to know I was able to actually lend a helping hand, etc.

So, that is how I made it through that difficult one-year mark. I am told that getting through the first year is the hardest, and that makes sense. Once you've been through everything once, you know you can face it again. In a year, I've been through all the holidays, anniversaries, and seasons. I've gone to weddings alone, I've gone on vacations alone, I've run my first half marathon without him at the finish line, I've gone to dinner parties and house parties alone, I've been the odd one out with other couples, and then I've made huge changes in my own life -- giving up the practice of law (for now, anyway), moving, and making some new friends. I know I can keep doing this.

On the other hand, I have also read that sometimes a date or holiday after the first year will hit unexpectedly hard, and I'm trying to ready myself for that. More than one book has warned that it might be the second, third, or some other Christmas/anniversary/etc. that might be the hardest, or where you might miss your loved one the most. I know that grief is like that -- just when you think you're doing good, something totally random comes along, or something that didn't seem to be such a big deal completely knocks you on your ass and beats you while you're down. Because this year was so personally chaotic and I had other things to focus on, it's possible that some of those dates and occasions will be harder next year when I don't have those distractions. Also, the weddings I've been to haven't been formal, sit-down affairs where I would feel the most alone at a round table of other singles, or with couples. I haven't been to another funeral or visitation since Brian's. I know eventually there will be a day when I'll have to do that, though that's a terrifying thought for me. And there will be something unexpected -- a song that comes on in a bar, catching a glance of big redheaded guy who looks just a bit too much like Brian, hearing a voice that is too much like his, etc. I know the road ahead is long -- really, it's one I'll travel the rest of my life -- and I know there will still be more bumps ahead, but I also sincerely hope that it gets smoother from here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"I Hate Martin Luther King, Jr."

I was watching TV recently with a friend when a blurb about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day came on, honoring him for his amazing works and noting the holiday in his honor this coming Monday. It was this weekend last year that Brian died. I turned away, and the tears started. "I hate Martin Luther King, Jr.!" I said. Naturally, that proclamation was met by some surprise. I explained that it was last year on this weekend that Brian had died, and that I just hated the weekend itself, not the man or what he stood for and accomplished. It's just that what was supposed to be a relaxed, laid-back long weekend ended in the worst day of my life, so I'll probably always have that association and, when I re-enter the working world, I don't think I'll look forward to the three day weekend each January.

Brian died on a Sunday morning. Tomorrow is that Sunday; Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the date, January 17. Ugh. Bad memories and associations with this time of year, to be sure.

I will get through the rest of the weekend and Monday, though, and I think I'll get through it okay. Life is throwing enough other things at me that I can't focus on the calendar too much, some good and some not-so-good. On the positive side, the Bears have a playoff game against the Seahawks tomorrow, and I love Bears football. Also, I'm in a skeeball league that plays tomorrow night, so I'll have something fun and new to look forward to as well. On the negative side, my grandpa had a stroke last weekend, so I'll be spending Monday driving south another 6 hours or so to go spend the week with him and my grandma (who spend each winter in the far south of Texas), to help out in any way I can and to support them as the "in sickness" part of their wedding vows kicks in. I think it will be great to see them, but it will be hard to see my Poppo when he is not in his normal state. (Much remains to be seen, but we're all hopeful for a full recovery.)

Also, just to update everyone....I'm now in Austin, TX for good. I am totally moved out of the Iowa house, though the closing is next Friday (I don't have to be there for that). I don't have any plans for any trips back anytime soon. This isn't to say I won't be visiting, just that I don't have any concrete plans for any specific trips. I don't know that this has really sunk in yet, since I did have so much back-and-forth over the past six weeks.

Right after my trip to see my grandparents, I have a girlfriend from Iowa coming to visit for the weekend. I am really looking forward to that! It does mean, however, there might not be another post for a week or so....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Can't Miss You if You Won't Go Away!

I'm back in Iowa...again. I think this is the fourth or fifth time I've gone back and forth this month. People here are asking, "So when are you leaving for good?" Not in a bad way -- I think people are trying to fit in one more dinner out, one more long lunch, one more happy hour, etc. I don't get the sense that my friends and family here are sick of my couch-surfing and my determined efforts to empty a few more wine and liquor bottles before the final move. If that's how they feel, they are terrible actors.

Anyway, I leave "for good" on Monday. I have one more family Christmas this weekend, in Northwest Iowa. I'll return to Waukee early on Sunday, pack up, get someone to come take away my living room furniture (I think I'm going to post a Craigslist or Freecycle ad), and ready myself to make the 930-something mile drive one more time.

It's weird packing things up and emptying the house. Dad and I already took a moving truck of stuff to Austin -- all the furniture from the master and guest bedrooms, all my kitchen things, the dining room table, etc. I've driven down again, with another SUV full of stuff, including my little keg fridge that has a perfect spot already in the new place! My dad came to the house today to get some things that they are going to store for me -- patio furniture, grill, lawn mower, furniture from the bar, the actual bar and barstools from the Boka Bear Den, etc. It's looking pretty bare here, and it's been weird...and sad.

I think it will be really hard to see the living room furniture go. It's not in the best shape, and it's all hand-me-down stuff, but right now the living room is the only room in the house that feels remotely normal -- aside from the bareness of the built-in shelves, piles of CDs on the floor, the stereo set on the fireplace hearth, and the fact that the TV that is hooked up is the "wrong" one, it feels somewhat like it used to, when it was the setting for nights spent as a happy family with Brian, Picaboo, and Ellie. I will forever miss sitting on the couch, Picaboo cuddled up, seeing Brian in the recliner with Ellie, who was always a daddy's girl. When this room is emptied, it will be one more visual reminder that those days are forever gone, that that life is over.

Already, the dining room is empty. No table, no wine rack, no funky rug, no paintings on the walls. Dad took away the rug and the kitchen table (which, with the leaf in it, served well as the de facto wine club table for the last month) today. Now, when you walk into the house, it looks bare, empty. A nice house, to be sure, but not teeming with the same energy and life it once had.

Well, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll have more to say about that when I'm really, truly gone, when I've completely emptied the place, when I'm "gone for good." But I can already see that this will be an emotionally difficult thing for me, that the 13 hour drive doesn't sound as daunting as the thought of turning around to lock the door to a completely empty, vacant house.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What A Difference Ten Years Makes

I am missing Brian a lot today. I'm copying all our CDs onto my computer so I don't have to move hundreds of discs to Austin (I'm still keeping my favorite discs for car trips -- the Evita soundtrack and The Pizza Tapes have some heavy playtime ahead, I suspect). In the process, I'm remembering a lot of music from the past. Granted, most of what Brian liked was music from the past (versus the majority of today's music, which is over-processed Velveeta pop). But I'm referring to music from our past -- stuff we used to listen to, years ago, then put aside and sort of forgot about.

See, Brian would go in phases with music. He'd find a song, a record, a band he liked...and that's all we'd listen to for the next however-many-months it was until he found something else with which to obsess. He'd play the same song 3 or 4 times in a row in the car if he really liked it. Thus, some songs or musicians are forever rooted in my mind to specific times of our lives -- Roger Miller was big with Brian in 2004, the year we got married (he demanded the mic from the DJ at our reception so he could do a Karaoke-type sing-a-long to "Chug-A-Lug"); then Willie and Waylon in the first half of 2005, as I was graduating from law school and sitting for the bar exam; the obsession with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young peaked around 2006, when we were settling into our house in Waukee and as some friends got married (he and the groom played Suite: Judy Blue Eyes repeatedly on the jukebox and sang along at the bar after the reception). You get the idea...

All these memories came up today going through our large CD collection, and in going through his LPs (yes, he was one of those LP devotees too). I decided I wanted to look at pictures of Brian, so I got on a friend's Facebook page to look at an album he had of "Boka" pictures. I'm not sure if it comforted me or made me miss his smile, his laugh, and his arm around my shoulder even more...but that's not the point. There was one picture that stood out, for an unlikely reason, and that served as the inspiration for this post.

The picture is dated January 21, 2001. We are at a party, standing in a doorway, looking at the camera. Brian has a kind of goofy, surprised-eyes look, so it's not an especially great a picture of us. What I did notice, though, when I was looking at the date printed on the corner of the picture (remember when we had to develop film and that was on most pictures?) was that I was wearing a ring on my left ring finger. My sapphire and diamond ring, set in yellow gold. The first ring he -- or any boy -- had ever given me (well, with the exception of a plastic blinking ring Brian gave me on one of our first dates!). A "promise ring," I guess you'd say.

It hit me that that picture was taken ten years ago. In ten years, the gold sapphire ring on that finger got replaced by a diamond engagement ring, then a wedding ring...which is now a "widow's ring" on my right hand. It's stunning what can happen in ten years' time, almost unfathomable. We went from dating, to engaged, to married, to death having done us part....all in ten years. I went from cute, 20-year-old coed girlfriend (who definitely only had fruit punch in that red cup!) to 30 years old and widowed since that photo was snapped, yet that seems like just yesterday.

It's amazing how much can happen in ten years, and yet how quickly that time can fly by. I don't think I'll ever really understand that juxtaposition, which keeps recurring throughout all our lives whether or not we notice.

I can't begin to imagine myself in January 2021, at forty years of age. Will I be a real estate hotshot in Austin? A mediator in San Antonio? A therapist in Boston? A hippie folk star's wife who travels around the country with the children in tow, cutting up organic vegetables for them? Will I be single? Married? Divorced? I can't begin to imagine, but I'm fairly certain of one thing: When I look back at pictures of myself from January 2011, as a thirty-year-old widow beginning a new life in a new and wonderful city, I'll think, "Wow...that seems like just yesterday. What a difference ten years makes."