Friday, May 27, 2011

Long Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend is here.  This is a time when we are to pay our respects to the dead, visit cemeteries, leave flowers.  Well, one outta three ain't bad, right?  For the second year in a row, I'm more than 1,000 miles away from my husband's grave on Memorial Day weekend.  For the second year in a row, it sucks.  (And the year before that, we lost some friends in a car crash, and that sucked pretty hard too.)  This weekend has a different significance for me now and, as long as I'm living this far away, brings a heavy mixture of guilt and homesickness, rolled into a ball and coated with the salt of my tears.

I will be back in Iowa within the next couple weeks, so I'll have my chance then to visit Brian's grave, bring flowers and/or some other small item of tribute, check on the condition of things (though I know his parents keep things in tip-top shape with regular visits), and sit down and have a talk with him.  Oh, and don't forget the tears.  I still have a hard time with cemetery visits.  There are tears every time, without fail.  Usually it's pretty bad, and I'm sure the next time won't be any exception -- I haven't been since around Christmas, the longest I've gone without a trip to Greenwood yet.  This is when I feel like I'm not doing a good enough job as Brian's widow, when I think about how infrequent my trips to the cemetery are.  I hate being so far from where he's laid to rest; it really weighs on me, this weekend more than most.  I take comfort in knowing that he has plenty of "visitors" -- I guess I just don't want him to be or even seem forgotten.  I need to remind myself that blogging, displaying and looking at pictures, and telling stories about him are all ways to remember and pay tribute to him, every bit as much as going to the cemetery. 

Still, I posted a request on Facebook this morning, asking that my friends who live near my hometown just take a few minutes to stop by and visit Brian's grave if they can this weekend.  I want him to know he is remembered.  In the meantime, I will take some time on Monday to reflect in my own way here.  This year is a little bit better than last, but it will still be a long weekend in more ways than one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Last weekend I went golfing.  For the first time.  In my life.  (We all agree that putt-putt doesn't count, right?  Thought so.)  And it actually wasn't a disaster.  In fact, it went really well.

Antonio, my mildly golf-obsessed boyfriend, had been talking about teaching me to golf, and I was game.  First, he took me to a golf shop and got me a few used clubs -- a driver, a 7 iron, and a putter.  Then, it was off to a golf club to practice driving, chipping, and putting.  I'll admit it was a little intimidating to learn something brand new, that most people either know by 30 or simply never pick it up.  I felt silly having to receive multiple instructions on how to hold a golf club, knowing at least a couple of the "good old boys" who'd been golfing for longer than I have been alive were watching to see how I'd fare.  There were a few embarrassing shots, sure, but a few good ones too, and I enjoyed the challenge of putting together all the tidbits of instruction Antonio was giving me -- "Keep your head down," "Turn your body more," "Keep your elbows straight," etc.

After spending about an hour on such instruction and practice, we took a lunch break and then headed to the nearby Par 3 course.  We played all 9 holes, Antonio coaching me through each one with great patience and encouragement.  At first, my drives were good but it took a while to figure out how hard to hit the ball on chips and putts (the first couple holes I chipped back and forth over the green multiple times).  Then, I struggled with my drives for a while. When I was able to do all the right things with all the different parts of my body for each type of swing, I managed to get in some decent shots though.  In fact, on the last two holes, I got bogeys (shooting 4 on a Par 3).  I don't think that was too bad for a first outing!  More importantly, I had a great time and it's something I look forward to doing again.

For someone who's been through what I have, finding a new hobby -- especially one that previously seemed daunting -- is really exciting.  I feel this way not just about playing golf, but also about yoga and kayaking, hobbies that are also new to me since Brian's death and my relocation to Texas.  To do these new things and incorporate them into my life is like a rebirth, a whole new part of me awakening that never existed before. Enjoying new things shows me that, despite losing Brian, I can grow, thrive, discover new things, and enjoy a life that is different from the one I had before.  I'm really free to be anyone and anything I want to be right now -- I can do anything I want to do, regardless of whether I've ever done it before.  I've come to a pretty awesome realization:  It's not too late for this old dog.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Trappings of Love

trappings [trap-ingz]:
1. articles of equipment or dress, especially of an ornamental character.
2. conventional adornment; characteristic signs: trappings of democracy.
3. the accessories and adornments that characterize or symbolize a condition, office, etc: the visible trappings of success 

We all know what the traditional trappings of success (based on the American capitalist definition of "success" at least, meaning financial success) -- fancy cars, watches, flashy jewelry, a nice home, etc.  But what are the trappings of love?  What does Edwin McCain mean when he sings, "Tell me that we belong together.  Dress it up with the trappings of love"?  Is he singing about diamond rings? Heart-shaped picture frames?  Roses in a crystal vase?

To me, the "trappings of love" are those seemingly mundane objects that aren't produced, marketed, or sold as objects of romance.  Books, food, toiletries -- these are as much the trappings of love as any flower ever was.  Those items that exist to support one's day-to-day existence are not important for what they are, but for what they represent.  A "trapping of love" can be something as simple as a toothbrush, kept next to another toothbrush in the cupboard, signifying a shared life, a shared space, a shared level of intimacy. 

The symbolism of everyday items as a representation of a shared life makes it especially hard for a grieving widow or widower to part with certain items.  It's hard to clean out the fridge to toss food items that were only there because your late husband liked them.  It's a reminder that every aspect of your world has changed, right down to the contents of your pantry.  Toiletries are especially  hard -- they are so closely attached to our late ones' bodies, their day-to-day routine.  Toiletries remind us of that everyday intimacy we had, of the very essence of living with another person and sharing a life with them, down to the mundane details of that life.  

 I've heard stories of widows and widowers who never touch their late spouse's items, who leave their dearly departed's things just how he or she left them -- eyeglasses on the end table, unfinished book on the headboard, toothbrush on the counter, bathrobe hanging on a hook, clothing hung in the closet, etc.  I took my time getting to these things myself, and only when forced to deal with them out of necessity (having a housesitter move in, then selling the house).  For anyone who finds themselves struggling while cleaning out the closet or going through a loved one's toiletries, please be gentle with yourself.  For those who know someone who has lost a spouse -- please offer to help with this task, but only when the grieving person is ready.  It is harder than anyone would imagine.  It took me hours, broken up over many days, and countless tears.  I remember especially having a hard time parting with his pomade, which had a couple strands of his hair in the goop on the inside.  I seriously considered extracting the hair with tweezers and keeping it -- just so I would have something physically left of him!  I considered how silly it would be to have two pieces of light red hair in a Ziploc baggie, how likely I was to lose it (especially seeing as it would likely be mistaken for a used, empty baggie), and how much I'd beat myself up when that inevitably happened.  Sobbing, I made myself pitch the pomade, hair and all.  

However, I did keep some of Brian's personal effects. Some of things that I can't use myself -- his money clip, glasses case, cufflinks and a few other things -- are in a tote my closet, and I feel good knowing I can touch them and see them whenever I want.  I like being able to hold onto the things that he carried with him, that were so close to his body.  It makes me feel closer to him and like he is still with me.  I had some of his Chicago Bears shirts made into a quilt, and kept a select few other items of clothing of his, enough to fill one drawer.  I still sometimes put on one of his big shirts to sleep or lounge in, I use his razor (after realizing men's razors are better than women's) and I still have two of his bottles of cologne in my bathroom, "hidden" among my own perfumes.  (By the way, this is a great tip for any widows or widowers who are re-entering the dating world -- keeping some of your late one's toiletries mixed in with your own is a good way to be able to hold onto tangible representations of your shared life without anyone knowing that but you!)

Now, amongst my own bottles of perfume and a couple of bottles of Brian's cologne, sits a small bottle of Antonio's cologne.  He's got a couple drawers' worth of things at my place, and I at his.  We have spare toothbrushes at one another's apartments, not to mention spare running shoes.  New trappings of love, symbols to the rest of the world that we have a place in one another's spaces and lives.  Not a marking of territory, but rather a symbol of shared space.  We've blurred the lines between our lives, and to me it is the toothbrushes, the pjs, the loads of laundry done mixed together of both our clothes, that are the "accessories and adornments" that characterize or symbolize love.

I'm lucky enough to have shared a life with Brian, and I still love having a few of the trappings of that life around.  Most people probably think it's weird that I have Brian's cologne alongside my perfumes and Antonio's cologne, or that they each have their own space in my dresser drawers.  However, to me these are the trappings of love -- the representations of the love I once had, and the love I have now.  These seemingly mundane things bring a smile to my face because they remind me that I'm lucky enough to have had love and shared a life with Brian, and now I'm lucky enough to have found love with someone who has never made me feel apologetic for honoring, remembering, and celebrating my past.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I Put Your Picture Away, Sat Down and Cried Today...

Front of my jewelry box
Whenever I go to someone's place, I love looking at pictures they have on display. I love asking people about the stories behind the pictures and seeing their faces light up when they talk about the people they love. I've been known to pull out a photo album or two at a party, and Hart and I had a great time showing our friends at Wine Club our photos from Bonnaroo last year. I realized after the fact that what we had actually done was the modern equivalent of a the oft-mocked "look at all these slide pictures of our vacation" gathering. Wow, I guess we got old somewhere along the way. I kind of like that.

Anyway, I love pictures, but I'm not always good at doing things with them.  Like a lot of people, I take pictures, they go onto my computer and possibly on Facebook, and then I never get around to printing or framing any of them. I have loads of photos that I intend to eventually get into scapbooks. When I moved to Austin, though, I realized I'd have a chance to change that. 

Inside my jewelry box -- how did I ever live without this thing?!
I desperately wanted pictures up so my new place would feel more like home, and also I wanted to atone for years of laziness in that regard (the jewelry box mentioned and shown in this post sat unhung for years in our basement in Iowa). I knew having pictures up would help me feel connected to my loved ones in Iowa as well. Finally, I was inspired by others, including the boyfriend and Kristine (my bestie in Iowa). They both have lots of pictures of friends and family on display, and I really like that.

Grouping of family photos
I got right to work on this task, and I put up framed arrangements (like the one shown, made up of family portraits), photos stuck to the fridge with magnets, and put some snapshots into frames. I went through all my pictures (which is quite a high number!) to pick out pictures to fill various multi-photo frames. For my Mexican-themed guest bedroom, I chose only pictures taken in Mexico. I also wanted to make sure I had pictures of all those who mean the most to me. I've got pictures of Brian, my family, Brian's family (who are like my own family), friends from Iowa, and friends from Texas. 

Mexico pictures
Recently, I decided it was time for me to put up some pictures of my boyfriend, "Antonio" (I'm going back to his assumed name on the blog; my friends and family know his actual name). I went through my computer and found all the pictures of us together - there were actually quite a few, including some from last summer, when we first started spending time together. I ordered 2 sets of all of them and picked out a couple frames, then got to work framing pictures -- a frame holding 3 of us for him, and the same for me (but different pictures, so we can see different ones when we visit each other).

I also picked out a few pictures to cut down to size for my jewelry box frame and another multi-picture frame I have displayed. I realized that by putting pictures of us up in existing frames that I would have to remove other pictures. It only made sense to take down pictures of Brian, as there were so many of him or us. So many, in fact, that a trusted male friend once told me my apartment was like a shrine to him. I explained to my friend that I look at the pictures on my wall as a photographic representation of the good things in my life -- the people, places, and events that have been interwoven to form the fabric of my life. To declare that there are "too many" good memories involving Brian would be to deny my past, my story, my very life. We filled our lives with good times and good people, and I can enjoy that without being stuck there.

In that vein, I decided it was time to do some updating so I could include some more recent memories and so I that I could also look every day at the face of the man who makes me smile now. I picked out some favorite shots and put them up alongside favorites of my cats, family members, and of Brian and me. Antonio was very happy to receive the framed pictures I gave him, and to be included in my photo displays around my place too. I explained to him that I hoped he didn't mind all the pictures of Brian -- I know it's weird for a person to have a frame that includes pictures of her with her boyfriend alongside pictures of her and her husband. I told him that as time went on, I'd keep updating pictures to reflect more recent memories and new friends, but would also keep some of old times up, and that I'd always have at least one picture of Brian up (right now, I probably still have somewhere between a dozen and twenty). He, true to character and history, took it in stride and I could tell he was being truthful when he said the pictures of Brian didn't bother him at all. He seemed to be honored to occupy room in my frames alongside my other loved ones.

I had been thinking I needed to do this for a long time, and wanted to make sure to do so by last weekend, which is when Antonio came into town and we celebrated the one-year anniversary of when we first met. I think knowing this was going to happen was what prompted a couple of my recent bad days. Knowing that I am moving forward and making new memories, creating a new life, is exciting and fills me with great joy. However, it also is necessarily another acknowledgment that my life with Brian is over, and that that chapter of my life has closed.

Here's hoping the next chapter brings great joy and that there are plenty of pictures on the pages ahead!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy Blogiversary!

Today marks one day to the year that I started this blog. I still remember sitting on my loveseat in my studio apartment on East Sixth in Austin last summer, setting this up so that my friends and family could keep tabs on what I was doing on my summer away.

I never expected that, one year later, I'd be living in Austin full-time and still blogging. I never expected that I wouldn't return to my life as an insurance lawyer in Des Moines, that I'd be taking real estate classes and contemplating graduate school instead. I never expected a lot of things to turn out as they did, but that shouldn't surprise me. I didn't expect my husband to die suddenly either. When will I learn to stop expecting anything?

It's interesting to go back and re-visit where I was emotionally a year ago, and the things that were going on in my life. You can look at last May's posts at:

Last May, I indicated that I started this blog, in part, to share my feelings and progress with those who cared about me. I was honest about the fact that it's easier to write about my feelings than to talk about them. I still think that's true, but I'm getting better. The blog has helped break down those walls, and so have some of my family members and friends.

When I started this blog, I wrote about how I was taking a few months to not have or follow a "plan" for my life and career. I'm only now starting to formulate a new plan, though I'm much more fluid in my approach -- I don't think I'll ever again pretend to plan things years in advance as though I could know what lies ahead. A year ago, my plan was still to go back to the life I'd made -- or, more accurately, what was left for me of the life Brian and I had made -- in Des Moines. I didn't realize how I would fall in love with this city and just how right it would feel for me to live here. So much for that plan.

A year ago, I wrote about discovering the Congress Avenue bridge -- and the bats that call it home -- while out for a run around Lady Bird Lake. Now, that bridge is a short walk or run from my place; I run under, walk over, and drive over that bridge several times each week. I had just started running for the spring season. Since then, I've done two half-marathons and several shorter road races -- a major milestone for someone who was used to having her husband waiting at the finish line every time. I likened grieving to marathon training or a long run. I know that, one year later, I'm much further along in my journey, but I'm still running that course.

Last May, I helped some of my Boka relatives move into a new house. I wrote about how it was bittersweet, how Brian and I had planned to buy a bigger and better home in 2011. I thought about how it was going to be us moving, if life had gone according to plan (there I go with plans again...). I wouldn't have imagined that I would, in fact, move a thousand miles away; I had no inkling that it would be my dad and me driving a rented moving truck full of furniture and kitchen stuff all the way down I-35 in mid-December.

Last summer, I was obsessed with Austin and all it had to offer. This May, I'm happy to say that I still am! Two of the places mentioned in my posts from a year ago -- Guero's and Jo's (where I took a picture of one of the actors from Friday Night Lights) are actually now just a quick walk from my apartment.

Then, I mentioned some of the new friends I had made in Austin -- Bonnie, Clint, and Kristen. I am still great friends with all of them, I'm happy to say. I have plans to see all of them in the next 48 hours, in fact. Kristen and Bonnie have both been lucky enough to cat-sit for me when I've been out of town (Clint is out of town more than anyone I know, so I wouldn't even think of asking him). One of my good friends, Hart -- who was Brian's best friend for 25 years -- had met Kristen in Las Vegas 5 years ago, which is part of how we got to know each other. Hart recently visited me in Austin and had a great time re-connecting with her. I also wrote about my friends Erin & Chad -- a couple from Des Moines who were about to move to Austin. They have settled in Austin nicely and I still see them on a regular basis as well and they have further expanded my social circle in Austin. I'm so thankful to have them as a part of my new life down here!

Last May, I mentioned going to a club called Antone's to see the band Cowboy Mouth. That was last May 13. This year, on May 13, I'll be going to Antone's to guessed it, Cowboy Mouth! (Incidentally, it was at this show last year that I first met "Antonio," aka Sheldon, who is now my boyfriend -- also something I would not have predicted!)

Last May, I wrote about my housewarming party, to which I invited all the people in my building. I'm still friends with some of those people. In fact, I recently ran a 10k with the guy who was my upstairs neighbor last year, and he brought me a lovely potted plant for a housewarming gift when I had my housewarming party this February at my apartment. To be honest, a year ago, I could barely keep a plant alive -- now I have a total of seven healthy plants in my apartment!

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about how I was adjusting to life without Brian. It was still pretty new for me at the time. I'm more used to that now, I guess, so it isn't as difficult. Last May, I was still struggling to even accept that he was gone. It still hadn't soaked in. Now, I accept it. I still don't understand why, and I am working on that -- but the reality of the situation has certainly made itself clearer. As I predicted, I am not "over" Brian's death -- and I don't believe I ever will be -- but I am more used to living without him. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't miss him. Today, in fact, I cried a lot thinking about him and missing him and the life we had. However, days like that are much fewer and farther between than they were a year ago. A year ago, my bad days outnumbered my good ones. Now, the good outnumber the bad by a long shot.

Here's hoping tomorrow is a good day...and I think it will be.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coming Out of the Closet

I'm going to clean out my dressers and closets this week. I did that this winter, a little bit anyway, before I moved to Austin. However, it's time to tackle this again. For one, I've lost a little weight and a fair number of inches (thanks, yoga and healthy eating!). For another thing, my style has changed. What works in Iowa is not necessarily what works in Texas. Beyond the fact that the heat necessitates a whole lot more cotton summer dresses down here, there is a different aesthetic here. It's a little more laid-back and funky, a little fresher. Also, there are practical concerns. I walk a lot more, so I wear a lot more flats than heels, whereas I lived in heels in Des Moines. I used to love cute, bowling bag-styled handbags, but now I realize I need to get more cross-body messenger bags I can throw on for a mile-long walk to the bars or that I can wear biking around town. Fashion and function must co-exist, at least for the most part -- but I'm still going to keep some stilettos and miniskirts around, believe me!

Anyway, I think this purging of my wardrobe to get rid of what no longer fits my body, taste, and lifestyle will be a cathartic thing and will help me continue to adapt to and thrive within the parameters of my new life. Instead of thinking about what used to work for me or what might be good to keep "just in case," I'm going to focus on what works for me now. Living in the past or the future doesn't work in any realm -- that's no way to live your life or to organize your closet. If something doesn't enhance your life, why give make room for it in your life?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chain of Title

I wrote recently about how I finally got around to getting my car registered in the state of Texas. As part of that process, I had to submit the title paperwork to the Travis County treasurer, who then mailed me a new car title to establish ownership of the vehicle by me as a Texas resident.

I got the new title in the mail the other day. It identifies me as the sole owner. The Iowa title named "Brian or Wendy Boka" as the owner. The Texas title lists the previous owner as simply, "Out of State -- Waukee, IA." I found that interesting -- just because the prior owner lived in another state, his or her name would not be included on the title. To the state of Texas, prior owners in other states do not exist, even if it is the same person who owns the car now.

In a way, it was strange to see that, because sometimes I feel like my entire past doesn't exist. I suppose it doesn't. It did once, but it does no longer. Brian does not exist now, the life we shared no longer exists, my career as an attorney no longer exists. Our home no longer exists -- yes, the structure that was our house is still standing, but it is no longer our home; in fact, it is someone else's home now. Looking at that title document, I was struck by how quickly one's entire life -- what one has built up to for literally decades -- can cease to be.

This weekend, appreciate the life you have, for you never know when it will all fall apart, when it will all cease to exist, and when you will suddenly find yourself 1,000 miles and a lifetime away from everything you once knew, getting another cold, hard reminder in the mail of what is no longer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Non-9/11 Widow's Thoughts on Bin Laden's Death

As someone who has read a lot about grief, written a lot about grief, and who knows loss in the most intimate and personal sense, I have to say that I am impressed with the immediate reaction to Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of our nation's military best. On all levels -- government, civilian, and media -- the tone has been appropriately proud and celebratory without being crass or boastful (at least in my opinion). Most impressive to me -- one who is primed to pay special attention to such things -- is the manner in which the president and media have treated the families of those who were killed by bin Laden's actions (though coverage has focused primarily on those who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, the largest and most devastating of bin Laden's terrorist actions against U.S. armed forces and civilians).

During President Obama's remarks to the country informing us all of what had transpired, I noticed he did more than just make fleeting reference to the survivors who lost loved ones to bin Laden's actions. He talked about the horrors we witnessed on that terrible September morning nearly a decade ago, then went on to say,

"And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts."

Watching the president of the United States say that was a profound moment to me. To me, it was a recognition of the depths of the pain that grief brings, the severity of it, and how very life-altering it is. I felt like this acknowledgment will help us all remember the value of human life, while somehow reminding us that taking a life was the right thing to do in this situation and something that we could even celebrate, to an extent. The tone is much more that justice and accountability -- and not revenge -- have been attained.

I've also been impressed with the media's coverage to the issue of how surviving family members feel. There have been some oversimplifications on by-lines running the bottom of the screen ("9/11 widows happy with killing"), but the news outlets are reaching out and asking survivors, and generally doing a good job of showing full and nuanced reactions. Grief is a complicated thing; to simply say all 9/11 widows are "happy" is a gross oversimplification and probably not true. However, most networks and stories have been presenting a fuller picture. Many survivors interviewed have indicated that the news doesn't make them "happy" because it doesn't give back what they (and the world) lost, but they are relieved and do feel somewhat better that the United States responded to the evil mastermind that plotted, orchestrated, and financed those thousands of deaths. I don't have anyone to blame for Brian's death, so I can't relate to 9/11 victims' surviving family members on that level, but I do know what living with grief is like and I can certainly empathize with them and appreciate the complexity of what they are likely feeling today. In any event, I am glad this issue is getting some exposure and has been handled appropriately (at least from what I have seen so far) by the media.

I hope that, as time goes on, the American people -- including media and politicians, who are first and foremost a part of "the American people" -- keep the focus where it should be and that this does not become a political issue. I hope that everyone, regardless of where they are on the spectrum, can recognize the magnitude of this accomplishment and, also, the reality of those who have lost loved ones and that this does nothing to fill the empty chair at the dinner table or to allow fathers to walk their daughters down the aisle someday. It is my belief, though, that bin Laden's death will mean that there will be fewer Americans thrust into that situation prematurely as a result of terrorist acts. For that, we should celebrate and be thankful.