Christmas Peace Comes After Loss

Holidays have been really tough for me since 2013, a few months after my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Those last holidays together were excruciating and the years after have been difficult to say the least. You are just going through the motions feeling empty inside. While you try hard, it is never quite the same again and really that’s okay. It’s a change in your life, you keep old traditions and strive for new ones to make sense of the loss. The change is a way you cope and it seems that each year you embrace the old with the new, like feeling a warm hug from your lost loved one.

My mom loved the holidays and Christmas was her birthday so that day is a double whammy of grief for me and my daughters as well as the other people who loved my generous, kind badass of a mom. The first Christmas without her was blur and by the second Christmas, we no longer lived in the same house as so many of my memories which helped me immensely. But not everyone wants, can or needs to move, it’s just what happened in my life for other reasons but the change helped me spark into a new part of my life.

Last year, my oldest and middle daughter moved out just days before Christmas when my oldest bought her first house. Exciting and a little disconcerting at the same time. More changes. The nest was more empty but what I have found is that while at first, when that whole empty nest starts hitting you, you want to cling to the old and familiar life you had. That’s normal. I went from being a caretaker for my mom, to being an orphan, to having a mostly empty nest in just a few short years. Mid-life can be tough sometimes. There is a ton of transition not to mention the fact you realize, hey, my life isn’t all out there in front of me now like it was twenty years before. But that in of itself isn’t a bad thing either. I mean it sounds horrible but what it does is focus your energy, you start becoming very picky how you spend your time and whom you spend your time.

Chances are if you have made it midlife, you’ve seen some shit. You’ve dealt not only with joys and happy moments, but tragedy and loss. You’re nostalgic for the old days when you gathered at a table with your grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles but you realize that a good many of them may have passed or you live at different corners of the country. While this seems sad and it can be, you refocus once again on the ever-changing station of your life. This is the same things your grandparents and parents probably had to do. Let go of the past and embrace the present, the future. Nothing stays the same but there is joy in today.

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Mom opening presents

Today is a bit snowy and grey in northwestern Ohio promising a white Christmas tomorrow. After leaving my daughter’s house this afternoon, I decided to visit my mother’s grave as it will be arctic cold tomorrow and really, other than checking on it, I never feel that my mom is there. The graveyard sits on a hill above the small white clapboard Lutheran church where we have attended church off and on since the mid 1980’s. Many of the graves around my mom are people I knew as a kid and were very welcoming to us all these years. Before my mom passed, I would ride my bike on these hills and on a hot day, stop and sit under one of the pines to cool off. The graveyard is a peaceful, beautiful place if you aren’t creeped out by dead people (I am not). But since my mom has been buried here, it always made me incredibly sad and I avoid it for the most part other than to look after her grave.

When I drove out, I thought I’m probably just setting myself up to be down in the dumps. I was alone for the remainder of this Christmas Eve afternoon until my husband gets home later from work. I parked in the snowy circle next to my mom’s grave and bundled up. As I stood looking at her grave, I found I didn’t feel sadness but peace. My mom isn’t there, just her body. The graveyard is not a big one, but I walked to the side that faces the church standing between tall evergreens that have been there longer than I have been alive. The snow blanketed the plowed field between the church and cemetery, creating a pastoral winter scene that one might frame and hang on their wall. Maybe this is the point of acceptance. Not that I don’t miss my mom every day, but the point where peace finally settles over you like a warm blanket of love and memories.

I hesitate to say that I won’t have a day where I’m back at the cemetery in tears but this is a step beyond what I have felt. Grief isn’t something I do well but who does? My mom should be here with us, celebrating, wrapping presents, giving us orders on what food we will bring and so on. Except she’s not and it’s taken me four long years to get back into the Christmas spirit. A spirit that is different from my last happy Christmas. Loss changes you, changes the way you see life and now I embrace the small things even more. The edge softens and you start to be able to enjoy the happy memories without crying. There is no magic number or time that this will happen as I am certain it is personal for each one of us.

However, there is hope that one day the pain will dull, your heart will fill again with your changed life and while there is always that empty space, love fills that void allowing you to feel mostly whole again. The road to here isn’t easy. It really f’ing sucks. But now I understand how my grandparents were able to move on, their parents moved on and still be happy. They say that mid-life is one of the most unhappy points of a person’s life and I think with all the change along with just the stuff you have gone through just from living, it’s true. The flip side of that is that as people age past mid-life, they generally grow happier. I thought how could this be? But I think you grow and learn to appreciate the moment more. Each moment becomes more and more precious as your life quickly speeds past.

This year we started even more new traditions to keep our family close. First we had a Christmas Craft day where we did different crafts to help decorated cheaply for the holidays. I’m not a crafter so I rarely do this kind of thing since the girls have grown up. But it was so much fun as it was like when I used to do little projects with them as kids and we laughed so much. Then a few weeks later, we had our first official cookie baking day. Now I see why families do these kinds of activities as it’s a way to recapture the joy of having your kids around and doing what made you happy years ago. Just because the nest empties, doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and decorate sugar cookies with your kids anymore, it just means that the decorating might be more R rated than G now. Well, at least in my family where we all have a crazy sense of humor.

Life changes, you lose people your love, your kids grow up and move out and you get older but there are many beautiful things as well. There are the memories of holidays with my mom and the appreciation today of how our holidays have gone from complicated and exhausting to simple. That my kids can actually cut out and bake their own cookies, so I’m not exhausted by the end of cookie baking day. Where we can relate on a much different level, like friends, where it’s more fun anyway than telling them quit eating the icing. I seriously don’t miss fighting with them over things. I don’t miss them being little. One day, maybe I will have grandchildren but like my mom said the beauty of grandkids is you can spoil them and send them home. I can see where she is coming from even though I’m not a grandmother.

My Christmas Eve has been quiet and relaxing with a hike thrown in this afternoon. Ten years ago, it was always a frantic mess of wrapping presents, trying to do as much cooking as possible among tripping over a bunch of bodies milling in and out. I’m looking forward to tomorrow as I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to rush through cooking, last minute present wrapping, etc. I’ve had the presents wrapped for a week. I have been spreading out the cooking the last few days. We have simplified our holiday menus, picking dishes that are easy to prepare rather than having more food than anyone could ever eat. Probably a leftover from when women stayed home and were graded on their homemaking skills. Now we’re out working and we don’t have time to make 3 kinds of cranberries. I get to pick how I want to do the day. There is no pressure. I wouldn’t care of my kids came over in the pajamas… None of that stuff ever mattered anyway. Being together matters.

I hope others who are grieving find some peace tonight and tomorrow, well, every day. As close as I was to my mother, I never thought I would really enjoy a holiday again. But I’m pleasantly surprised this year that I actually am looking forward to Christmas as is my daughters. Not that I haven’t had sad moments of missing my mom. They just are less frequent and intense. A relief from the past four years. Life changes, have faith that one day you will feel more peace. I don’t know when, but it happens.

Wishing you a very blessed Christmas (or your holiday celebration of choice) and a wonderful new year full of fun, love and laughter. Yes, there’s going to be some crappy stuff, but in between, I pray you find peace, love and joy. Bring on 2018!

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Memories of Mom – Micro Road Trips

Once I reached about 15 years of age and we had moved into the townhouse apartment in my now hometown, my mom’s finances started improving as she moved up at work. It seemed after the first winter in the townhouse, when spring finally arrived, a new feeling came over our small abode. One of relief and hope as we were able to start doing a few things without fear of not paying some important bill, like electricity. The money had been so tight, my mom must have just buckled down at work and did what she did best, excel in whatever she put her mind to.

One late spring day, she had my sister and I load up in the red Ford Fairmont and we went for a drive. We probably packed up some sandwiches and drinks as the extra gas was a splurge and to balance that, we wouldn’t be able to eat out. This was of little concern because we were so happy to be out on an adventure and escaping the grind of our every day lives. It felt like heaven. I remember bits and pieces of these trips. We would drive way out in the country in an area where chicken farms/ barns were very common and I remember passing one barn where there was this huge statue of a white rooster stood in the front yard. We dubbed him “Super Chicken” and laughed about it for years. The statue still stands today and while I don’t pass it often, it makes me melancholy for those more simple days with my mom when I see it again.

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Super Chicken!

Another time, she took us to a local lake where the swimming area wasn’t exactly sandy but mucky. I remember her sitting at a picnic table, trying to hold down papers she was working on while we kinda swam but mostly ran out yelling ‘ewwww!’. We were there for a long time and I could tell my mom was stressed with whatever she was working on. I felt bad thinking she should be able to have some fun with us too but when I asked her to come wade with us because she never learned to swim, she just shooed me away. That day always stuck with me because over the years I watched the stress and strain of my mom’s job tear at her health. Most people who knew my mom wonder why I didn’t follow in her footsteps. For that exact reason, I did not.

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Grand Lake St. Marys

I remember four-hour trips to Youngstown to stay with my grandparents for the weekend. These trips were our big treats. Sometimes on a long holiday weekend or during the summer, these trips would lead to going in ‘home’ as they called it. These were trips into Friendsville, Maryland and Garrett County, where my great-grandmother Sadie and my great-aunts, Betty & Grace both lived. Trips to Maryland were exotic times as we went from the flat landscape of northwestern Ohio to the mountains of Maryland where much of my maternal side of the family lived in some of the most beautiful land I’d ever seen. Roads that my great-grandfather, Samuel, helped build and the old road leading up to what had been my great-grandparent’s farm was named “Sam Friend” road after him. It is this steep, twisting gravel road that came up through the woods and popped out right next to one of the farm’s barn. We would drive by it and I would listen to my mom and my grandmother wax nostalgic about the idyllic days on the farm and it was a shame what the current owners had done to the place.

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Youngstown, Ohio – Grandparents Home

For our Youngstown trips, an hour into our drive was a road-side rest area just beyond Upper Sandusky that we eat our picnic lunch. I remember a few years later, we were able to stop at McDonald’s and actually have lunch in the restaurant though we decided if it was nice out, we would get our food to go and visit the little roadside park which was much nicer than the noisy fast food joint. Sometimes, we would get KFC which was an extra special treat. Now that seemed like a real picnic to us. Fried chicken? What’s a better picnic food than fried chicken?

The fried chicken brought back memories of happier times of when we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. My mom would fry her own chicken to pack cold along with some sides and we would eat in the mountains, the four of us. My dad, mom, my sister and I just enjoying a day out as a family. I am sure there were moments when my mom had to be wistful for what she thought life as a married woman would be but she really never said much. But I know she cried when we left our brick front home in Tennessee packed in a U-Haul headed to Missouri. To be honest, I did too. We went from a nice two-story tri-level home to a falling down old rental owned by a paternal great-uncle I think I met once in a nursing home. My dad would lose his job and then become convinced life somewhere else was better, if we move here, things will be great. No matter how many times we moved, it was only great for a short time until his drinking would return full-force.

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Our Home in Knoxville – Happier Times

These road trips whether they were just micro one hour drives in the country or a bigger foray into ‘home’ to Maryland were some of the happiest moments of my adolescence. They were the signs that things were getting better and that if you work hard and keep the faith, you’ll come out on the other side of darkness and into the light. It is why when I had my kids and even when I didn’t have a lot of money, we would load up in the minivan, lunch packed, and head to a park or lake. I knew these simple acts of escape, being outdoors, exploring new places would couple together many happy memories for my own kids. They were the ones who coined these trips as ‘going on an adventure’.

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Laura – Tennesee Mill –

Even today, I get ancy if I’m home a lot. I don’t know if it is just my personality or if being ‘stuck’ in one place for long periods of time reminds me of the times when things were harder. I love getting into the car and driving simply nowhere. Exploring shops, restaurants, historical site and parks along the way. It’s amazing what you can find with no itinerary. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a quick vacation of sorts. The simple things in life are true blessings. Sure that expensive vacation to somewhere tropical is exciting and will always be in your memory, but taking a drive in the country can be just as fun and rewarding. There is so much to explore close to home.

Sometimes I pass the two castles about 40 minutes from my home that my mom, sister and I found on one of our drives. Since there was no internet, we didn’t even know they existed. We were just driving out and about, the Ohio map tucked between the seats in case we got lost, when we drove around a bend in the road and there stood this small castle tucked into a hillside. And down the road there was another one. When we got some extra money, we went back to the castle that interested us the most and paid for the guided tour. While this was probably no big deal for most families, for us it was really exciting to actually be doing something out of the ordinary. Every time I pass this castle now, I think of that day, how we were all smiles weaving through the castle rooms with our tour guide. This memory is dear to my heart. Now, I wistfully wish my mom was still here as I would treat her to a tour to this castle that would probably seem tiny and not such a big deal today but just for old time’s sake.

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One of the Piatt Castles – The one we toured mid 1980’s.

As parents, we do the best we can with what we have. We worry that maybe if our kids don’t grow up with everything that we fail. I struggled a lot when my kids were younger after my divorce from my father. My mom was there to help us and she spoiled them rotten at Christmas and birthdays. I listen to my girls talk now as adults, and there were some bad times in their childhood and adolescence but mostly they have fond memories. They thank me now for not being a helicopter parent and teaching them how to do laundry, cook, do chores, etc. Just like I had to learn to take care of myself and also my mom and sister when my mom had to work so much. Independence and appreciate for the little things in life is a good thing.

This weekend, I think I will make time for a drive, just for old time’s sake.

Happy Holidays, I so appreciate you reading my blog. My biggest reward in writing is when I can touch my reader’s hearts or souls. I wish you the very, very best in 2018. Ciao!

Hello 2017! 

Happy New Year!  I want to first thank everyone who reads my blog on and off.  I’m really grateful that you do!

January 1st is considered a day of new starts and new beginnings.  People make resolutions to save money, get into shape and find a partner.  It’s great to look into the universe and ask for what you want but you must really believe in it, visualize it.  At times of doubt, reform your positive thoughts, see yourself 20 pounds lighter, see yourself with more money or see yourself holding hands with your love walking in the park.  You can make all the resolutions you want but unless you really believe that it is possible, that it will happen, you will only sabotage yourself.

But enough about resolutions.  I quit making them several years back.  Every day is a new beginning and a new start.  Last night after a dinner out with my husband, we were talking about things like vacation, bucket lists, what we want to accomplish in the new year.  I reflected back ten years ago when my life was quite different.  It only changed when I made up my mind that I could no longer live in this 2nd marriage.  Today my life is much different.  In 2006, I was unhappy and miserable just holding it together.  Day by day, week by week fighting against the negative energy of someone who didn’t have mine or my daughters’ best interests at heart.  Fast forward to today and there is little I need or even want.  If I died tomorrow, there is very little on my bucket list.  I would only regret leaving the people I love.

The whole ‘bucket list’ thing I somewhat understand.  It’s great to motivate you to go out and experience life.  While there is some traveling I want to do and I want to write that best-selling novel, my focus is very small.  I used to have grand ideas and dreams but my mom’s terminal cancer and death put life into a whole different context.  Things I believed were so important whether they were material or intangible, are really not important to me now.  The meaning of life to me is to spend time with the people you love and find ways to show love to others.  It means stop taking crap you don’t have to take (though sometimes you have to do it to make a living), stop doing things you don’t want to do especially social obligations and start doing the things you enjoy the most even if it is not something everyone else finds exciting.

Rather than a bucket list, I want to focus on a gratitude list.  Recently, I started volunteering at a local nursing home and have found it very rewarding so far but also very sobering.  Imagine what it would be like to one day wake up and your life is limited to a small room (possibly shared) and a hallway leading to the dining room/ rec room.  Physically you are no longer able to walk or care for yourself.  All your possessions are now in the room with you and can be placed in a few large boxes.  That isn’t how it ends for everyone, but it is a reminder of what is truly important.  Our health, love and the people we love.

I have so much to be grateful for but it is easy to get into this cycle of feeling sorry for yourself or focusing on what you may have lost.  Grief has a way of pulling you down under murky waters and you can’t see the light.  I’m sure this is normal and it’s hard to live without someone you were very close to that was also a big part of your life.  Eventually you surface and start swimming for shore but the thick water of grief keeps pulling at you, making your progress slow and painful.  Some days the swimming is easier and other days you just want to slip back under the surface and never come back up.  I have no sage advice though time does help but it’s not magic either.  You have to be careful though to not forget your life and the ones who are still here.  My grief became somewhat selfish and self-centered.  I felt bad for myself, my mother is gone, and I kept living in that cloud.

The problem with living that way is you short change the people who need and love you.  You don’t mean to do it, you are lost in your own grief but at some point you have to get back onto shore and walk.  Even though it’s hard, and you would rather just keep swimming in the thick dark lake of grief and sorrow.  You need to look at all that is good in your life right this minute.  For me that is my husband, my daughters, my extended family and friends.   That I live is a beautiful comfortable home, drive a nice vehicle and have all the food and comforts I could ever want.  I can walk, cook and take care of myself.  I can literally walk a few feet, get into my truck and go wherever I’d like.

At least for now.  I am the most blessed woman on the planet even though I’ve lost my mom and other people I love.  Even though I had two shitty marriages and made a bunch of mistakes in my life.  But no matter what, I think being grateful for what you have at that moment is very powerful.  This brings happiness and joy to your life.  I went from nothing, an abusive home, sexual/verbal/emotional abuse, poverty etc. to still lead a good life.  Life may kick you hard but it is up to you where you end up.  You have the choice to be grateful and look ahead at improving your situation or you can sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  Be a victim.  I chose gratitude.  I chose to live the life I want.

This year after living most of my life in dysfunctional chaos, I am going to chose to live in peace.  Even if events are out of my control, I am going to chose a different path.  I’m going to focus on what I have to be grateful for and I’m going to ask for what I want in life.  I want to publish a book.  I want to be fit.

What do you want?  What are you grateful for?  

The Best Birthday Ever… 

The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother.  I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message.  The message said:

“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  LOVE YOU.  MOM”

Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left.  She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end.   That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.  

 I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it.  One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box.  Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother.  I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother.  As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive.  Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.  

Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around.  Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time.  You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know.  Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me.  Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.  

I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer.  I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person.  Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it.  No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money.  Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006.  She retired from where I work in 2010.  Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday.  I reread her words several times.  And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday.  My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room.  We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care.  And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.  

On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift.  As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly.  Simply this was my hardest birthday ever.  My last one.  There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday.  But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card.  I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.  

Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions.  Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived.  There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple.  A few friends over for games, cake and balloons.  Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers.  Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party.  Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces.  We never do surprise parties either.  I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.  

Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family.  Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside.  It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember.  I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory.   I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it.  I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.  


Dying of cancer sucks.  Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more.   A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age.  No warning, nothing.  Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together.  Or wondering how much time you have.  Or the pain, the helplessness.  It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.

Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal.  None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels.  That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them.  We only have so many moments.  The only guarantee in life is death.  

No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel.  It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room.  What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis

Empty Nest – Sorta…

I don’t technically have an “empty nest” by definition.  All three of my daughters are still living at home though they live their own lives.  Two of them work a second shift full time job so I don’t see much of them and the youngest is going to the local college full time and working with an active social life so I don’t see her much either.  Which is how it should be.  This is what we parents train them for, going out and getting on with their own life.  What they don’t really tell you is how that is going to affect you.  When I say something about it to people who haven’t gone through it, they roll their eyes and say well you knew they were going to grow up or something equally as helpful.  I always think in the back of my mind, well, you will be here one day too and I will offer you the same grand advice and sympathy.  Okay, I’m a little vindictive at times, I’ll admit it.  

Recently it has become more acute for me because my middle daughter who worked with me went to the second shift job at the place where her older sister worked.  It was a great move for her, better pay and opportunity for her to advance.  As much as I was excited for her, I dreaded the fact that my “buddy” wouldn’t be around to keep me company because she’s more a homebody than I am.  So essentially it was rare I was alone in the house with all the different shifts and people coming and going.  Until now.  

Add in the fact my husband works a swing shift, I’m finding myself home alone much more frequently and not really sure of how I feel about it.  One moment I am ecstatic I can hog the tv, the couch and play my piano as loud as I want.  The next moment, I look around and think, this is weird.  Where is everyone?  For ten years of my life, I lived with seven people in my family.  You were never alone and you never were in the bathroom alone.  There were days I couldn’t wait for this day when I had the house to myself and could pee without an audience.  Now it’s here, I stand in the silence of this house and I am not really sure what to do with myself.  

What I’ve read about empty nest from experts and people that have been through it, we all feel somewhat the same.  I’ve been lucky because it’s been a lot more slow process than some of my friends where it has been very abrupt.  But much of the advice I read, falls short with me.  Volunteer.  Get a hobby.  Travel.  All good suggestions but I am finding myself wanting more purpose than that though volunteering is a great thing.  I often feel like the girl interrupted.  My life went in a completely different direction than I had hoped.  Almost hijacked by narcisstic husbands and poor choices on my part but it’s straighten out.  The chaos and craziness those relationships provided were like white noise that I did not have to face my own life and what I wanted to do.  If you are too busy surviving, then you don’t have time to think about your dreams and hopes or your life purpose.  

My oldest daughter is twenty-five and she is at a similiar cross roads.  She had hoped to get into grad school and further forgo having to choose a direction for her life.  As she said, much of her life has been orchestrated.  You go to school, graduate high school, go on to college and then get out and get a job.  She had taken a hiatus after my mom’s death Becuase we were all pretty shell shocked and needed time to heal.   A little like me, she is asking the question, what does she want to be when she grows up because the old things just doen’t seem right to her.  She is starting to look in directions and for paths she had never considered.    

However, she still has most of her life ahead of her.  She may marry and/ or raise a family.  I’ve done that part.  So check, family done.   I try to imagine myself back in high school when counselors, teachers and parents are asking me what I want to do after I graduate.  The biggest difference is I am established in life and when you become middle-aged, you start feeling that it is really important that you don’t fritter your life away.  But the problem with that line of thinking is that you forget to enjoy life because you are too worried about making a difference, reaching that goal because you feel like you only have so much time.  The flip side is you can become so concerned about making the wrong choice, you make no choice at all so you are stuck in limbo.  Which is where I think I am at times.  

When I was younger, early 20’s, I had a million ideas for businesses and actually had the balls to even go for a few of them. Now I come up with 100000 reasons why I shouldn’t do something.  In a way, youth has the upper hand here because ou are more likely to take risks, even if they are stupid.  The older you get, the more you learn and the more you think, I have to be crazy.  I could lose my house, investments, savings, cars and the like.  When you are just starting out, you have much less to lose usually.  On the other hand, if I don’t ever try or reach for my dreams, I will regret it on my death bed.  I feel much like I am frozen, paralyzed.  

At the end of last year, I wrote down several goals and have achieved several of them or am on the verge of achieving them.  Going back to school has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before and has also eaten up a lot of my free time.  Now I am less than two weeks away from finishing and I am thinking, okay, now what?  Having a goal and a purpose felt good.  I was doing something for myself, just as if I was much younger without a family.   This tells me that after graduation, it will be time to sit down and think up my next moves in life.  In a way, this is daunting and exciting at the same time.  Learning to spend more time alone is different but not a bad thing.  It is much like being single and living alone when you start out, something I didn’t really experience. 

Sure, my life is slowly changing and there are times I’m excited and other times I am sad or dread the change.  Just like anything in life, any real change, there is positive and negatives but middle-age isn’t the end of the world.  I will learn to adjust to this time, just as I learned to adjust to all the other times of my life.  Some easier and others harder, but I always come out just fine.

In some ways, “empty nest” is like being given a second chance to find your path in life, your new path.  

A Girl and Her Bike…

Cycling has become a religion to me.  Not in the way of the stereotypical cyclist who races, does tours, watches every ounce or gram on the bike, who lives and dies by the mileage and weighs precisely 95.6 lbs.  Okay I don’t know if anyone actually weighs that but weight is a huge issue in the cycling world, gear and rider.  No for me my bike has become somewhat of a ‘bible’ of sorts (apologies for anyone finding that blasphemous).  In the sense that it is my avenue to find peace and a spirituality that doesn’t come from Sunday services, verses, or commandments.  It is simply my bike and me on the pavement, sometimes the trail but out in God’s great creation we call ‘nature’.

I gain strength from cycling, the sheer at of revolution after revolution as my legs and feet turn the crank which turns the chain which drives the wheel.  It propels me to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength.  Two wheels and a carbon fiber frame, some gears, brakes and words in neon green scrawled across my top tube “Go Get Em Killer” that started as a joke but has become my mantra, a reminder to keep going when I want to quit.  Not only quit riding but quit in life.

After over eight months of suffering sometimes excruciating pain, multiple doctors, food intolerances, GI upsets, two ER visits, many tests that came back normal, they finally have found what is most likely causing this issue.  A uterine ablation done mid-2012 that has gone awry and very possibly I will need a hysterectomy.  I’m 45.  I feel like I am too young to think hysterectomy.  I leave the doctor’s office crying, I drive home crying, my daughters want to comfort me but I tell them give me some space, I’m going out to ride.  I’m pissed because I feel like this procedure was doomed from the start and I may have avoided both surgeries, the ablation and the hysterectomy if I need it.  I feel as if my body has betrayed me.  I’m angry that this comes in the middle of buying a new house and moving.  I’m angry my mom isn’t here to talk to about this.

Quickly I pump up my tires, slap a water bottle in one of my mismatched cages, my phone in its holder and clip into the pedals and pick the hilliest route around our small town.  The route that will go right by the house we will be moving to in a few months.  The music in my headphones is loud, I’m challenging cars to hit me (I get a bit stupid reckless when I’m mad – blame it on my Irish side) as I crank through town until I finally climb the overpass over the highway and coast down into a more rural setting.  The wind is blowing against me forcing me to fight harder to keep up any kind of speed.  I’m not really paying attention to the scenery though it is a sunny afternoon, not too hot and at least, not raining.  The road is a straight line that just gently flows up and down hills that are harder than they look.

My mind starts to empty, my mood starts to level as my entire focus becomes nothing more than to crank the pedals and shift the gears to propel me over each crest, coast, climb, coast, climb.  Watch out for the rabbit peeking out of the tall ditch grass, the road kill, the groundhog who can’t decide if he’s going to run in front of me or go back into the ditch.  Slowly my mind picks back up, now the anger has been channeled into climbing hills and I can think logically again.  I can hear messages or emails coming in on my phone and I reach forward to flip the switch to silence the interruption.  At the first stop sign, I change my playlist from the driving beat of my more motivation mix of music to an artist that puts me into a more reverant mood.  I need to think.   Take a long drag off the water bottle, cringe because I can’t stand sports drinks but hate water more and then cross the busy two lane highway before a semi truck hits me.

Back into the quiet, coming closer to our future home that is about eight miles or so from our house.  The hardest hill is right before the descent that passes this place.  The hill and trees to its west obscures the house from view but I pedal by only glancing at the house, I am more focused on the views around the place and see an old school house about a mile up or so east of it.  I decide to ride to that crossroad and turn around.  I am more of an out and back riding for the sheer purpose of seeing what my average speed is because for some reason that seems like it would be more true than a loop ride.  I have no idea if this is true but it makes sense to me.  I’m retracing my steps, the wind is behind me, the terrain is now opposite, there has to be some science there right?

I’m thinking about the pain and the doctors and the tests and the frustration and all the lost sleep I have had since early November.  I am thinking about what other women have told me about the surgery.  I realize that if this is what is to be, it is not the end of the world.  I can be angry about all the tests, but I have a lot of proof that there isn’t any cancer or something else going on with my body.  Just simply this was missed because maybe the first time I visited my OB/GYN in May, I took pain medicine that prevented the physical exam from showing anything amiss. Good news, my next colonoscopy is five years out and I’ve had two with no polyps.  Bravo!

Climbing again, up toward the new house I smile to myself and think yes, I will be happy here.  I will have less gardens to tend, though our lot is much bigger it’s mainly just mowing.  We can sit out on our patio and not be stared at by 20 neighbors.  Or sit on our front porch and not be approached by salesmen.  I click off my music with my headphones switch and listen to the quiet.  A gentle wind making the corn stalks swoosh and dance.  Or the tall grass gently hush, hush.  Simply said, it is peaceful.

My husband and I had a hard time narrowing down what we wanted in a home.  Logically as we always are, we came up with a checklist of attributes the new property needed to have such as a two-car garage attached, enough room for our daughters, maybe a workshop for him, newer rather than older home that is maintenance free as possible.  The one element we really wanted though and took us a long time to figure out was we needed peace, quiet and solitude more than anything else.  The last few years had been brutal emotionally for us.  Our focus had shifted.  Things we once thought we wanted or were important were no longer so.  As is everything else, sometimes the direction of your journey isn’t evident and you take a few wrong turns until you get back on the road you need.  Sometimes you don’t know you need something and it takes awhile to realize it.

I cranked by the house and up the hill.  At the top of the hill is a cross roads and my hometown is way in the distance.  The elevation of this hill is high enough I can see the rolling countryside all the way to town.  I brake at the side of the road for a minute and smile.  I’m no longer angry or sad or frustrated or feeling depressed and old.  I’m bracing my bike with my legs and feeling strong because I just rode all that way out to here and I’m not even tired. Sweaty, but not tired.  I am 45, overweight and according to my tests and with the exception of my uterus, I’m in great health.   I lean down and put my hands back over the brake hoods and clip in my right foot into the pedal.  My bike is an extension of myself, the way I deal with all sorts of life issues.  It is my Zen.  It is the friend who never judges.  It is a vehicle to sort out my life, my emotions, my thoughts.  What I want out of life is much more simple than I ever thought.  Losing my mom put that all into focus.  I push off and both wheels hit the pavement again.  Clipping in my left foot, the fun begins as my ride out was hard.  The ride back is mostly downhill with the wind pushing me.  My cyclocomputer soon reads 25 mph as I lean down into the drops making myself more aerodynamic.  The world flies by and I feel a familiar rush of adrenaline and am finally having fun.

I’m simply a girl and her bike out for a ride.

The Many Shades of Grief

It has been several months since I posted a blog entry as I really have had nothing to write about.  Or maybe, I have and I just haven’t felt like writing.  This morning I was lying in bed thinking about the previous day where my husband and I worked in our yard, trimming back all the many bushes that grows in our quarter of acre patch.  Working in the yard since my mother passed March of 2014, is bittersweet to say the least.  She is the one who walked into this house the summer of 2000 while I was a single mother and said, Laura, this is your house, I can feel it.  And so it is and has been for almost fifteen years.

When I moved into the house it had precisely two lines of honeysuckle bushes lining the back yard, evergreens in the front, one old maple, one old crabapple and two ash trees by the front street in the city-owned strip.  Now it is full of anything that flowers.  Over the years my mom and I have bought things for this yard, I have divisions of plants that come from my great-grandmother’s yard.  We pass down plants like some people pass down family heirlooms such as an antique clock or jewelry.  You can’t be from my mom’s side of the family and not want to dig in the dirt.  So now when I work in my yard, it is like walking among a tapestry of memories.  Here is the lilacs my grandmother gave me years ago.  Here are the forsythia bushes my mom bought me on sale a the nursery.  Almost every plant is tied to a memory including ones my kids bought me for Mother’s Day.

As I sat on my front porch after we had completed a long overdue task as I let much of the yard work go last year because I couldn’t even bear to even pull weeds in my gardens full of memories, I felt so restless.  My husband recently asked if we could look for a new house in a town about 20 minutes south of our current one so he could cut down his hour drive to work.  We had talked about it when we first got together, moving about halfway once my daughters had graduated high school.  This of course started a ripple of anxiety, stress and uncertainty in me.  On one hand I wanted to dig in and say well we don’t owe much on this house, why go into debt and on the other hand, I did make that promise to him seven years prior.  The search has netted little.  We did make an offer on a house outside of town that I think we both thought would work but neither of us was thrilled with the idea of living there.

The only house that really excited us was pushing our mortgage limit.  It is also a uniquely designed home from the late 1970’s that would be hard to sell.  It’s already been on the market over two years so we would have to really commit to this home.  But as we put the mortgage payment that would accompany this 5 bedroom, 5 bath, 6 level house tucked in the woods, we cringe at what it does to our discretionary money.  There just isn’t much left over.  We reconsidered it last night after a month of letting it sit on the discussion table, even driving by it and thinking oh how perfect it is for us because it’s secluded and everyone else in this “neighborhood” seems to be just like us.  Wanting to be left alone.  Coming home, he ran the numbers and said it just makes us too tight unless they came down significantly.   We sigh and let it go.  Maybe it just isn’t the time to move.  Or maybe deep down we are both struggling with grief and we don’t want to truly move, though that is probably more me than my husband.

However, I have days where I think, I want to start over in a new town.  One that isn’t full of memories and in a house where we just start over.  Then I think about the town that is half way between our jobs and I am less than excited about moving.  It’s a little bigger than my current town, puts me closer to things I do often, more stores, restaurants, etc. but it’s not my dream town.  Then my mind thinks, well do I even want to live in Ohio?  Maybe I want to move back south?  Then I think well maybe we should just bite the bullet on that expensive house.  Then I think no, I don’t want that financial stress.  In other words, I don’t think I know what I want.  There are days I don’t feel I fit in my hometown at all.  And other days it feels like home.  Days where my house feels like a warm, blanket of love and other days where I feel weird and restless in it because I see so many memories that include my mom.

Grief, I realize manifests itself in so many unexpected ways.  For me it can be as simple as weeding around one of the roses my mom bought me that can trigger it.  Walking into the garden section of any local store.  In addition, I am at that point in my life where everything has changed for me.  My daughters are all out of high school, one graduated college and one in college.  They are all independent and my mothering duties are slight.  I no longer have parents to take care of.  People call it empty nest but all my girls still live at home for the moment.  I work in the same place my mom retired from and my middle daughter works.  I walk the halls my mother used to walk for many years.  My life is like a shrine to my mother almost. I live in the same town, in a house she helped me choose and at a job where there are constant reminders of her.  Even some of my documents show the author as being her because the templates she created.   And I was always in her shadow.  She worked her way up to the top of the food chain at our company while I chose to stay in much more quiet roles.  Mostly because I saw what the stress did to her.

Now that I am at a point in my life that it is much like that last year of high school where I am scrambling trying to decide what direction I want my life to take, I find myself quite lost at times.  I realize how short life is so I want to live it to the fullest, do the things that make me happy but I am not really sure what all that is anymore.  What was important to me two years ago is no longer important to me today.  Watching someone die, you realize how little in life is truly important.  I”ve narrowed it down to the people you love, helping others and enjoying life.  What other people think doesn’t matter at all.  What you own doesn’t matter unless you get a lot of enjoyment out of that purchase.  I suppose for me, it is much like waiting for my calling to be revealed.  I sense there is something, not sure what, but it is out there.

Maybe I just am being taught to be patient, maybe I am being given time to heal before suiting up for my next big adventure…