My Mother Was Right

The last time I wrote a blog post I was in an anxious and annoyed state over the seemingly endless list of things I thought I could not do without Ben.  At the time, the top of the list of annoyances was the fact that I was headed off to Camp Widow where I would be attending a Saturday night Masquerade Ball and there was no one to zip up my dress.  It sent me into a full blown panic.

Well, one week-ish later and I’m here to tell you that I survived.  Not only did I survive, but I thrived.  Yes, I said it … I thrived.  And I’ll let you in on a secret I have always known on some level but often refused to admit …

My Mother Was Right.

Yup.  I’m writing it in this blog and I’ll never again be able to deny it.  My. Mother. Was. Right.  She told me I wasted too much time worrying and it turns out she knows exactly what she’s talking about.  Zipping up my dress turned out to be a non issue.

I arrived at the San Diego airport and discovered that I am perfectly capable of retrieving my own luggage and finding my way to a hotel without Ben.  Who knew?  (Apparently my mother knew).  I asked a few questions around the airport and made my way right to the area where the ride pick up is, AND …. I used a Lyft.  That’s kind of a big deal considering we do not have Lyft or Uber in BC, and yet still I figured it out.  Imagine that.

I was aware that there was a bit of a gathering at the hotel bar on Thursday evening, and as much as I wanted to hide in my room and stress out in anticipation of the next morning, I didn’t.  I forced myself to go downstairs all by myself and find the bar.

You may be wondering how one finds the rest of the Widows in a strange town, in a packed bar, with no signs pointing out which way to go and no one wearing a black veil.

 

I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances.  I walked over to a group of women and said something to the effect of, “Are you all widows?”  Class act #1 for the weekend.

I guess I now have a radar for widows because it turns out I asked the right people. They were indeed widows and they welcomed me with smiles, and in return I promptly burst into tears.  Class act #2.  There I was, standing at a packed bar and all I could do was cry.  Not because Ben is dead, although that reason is never too far away, but because it was such a relief to realize for certain that I wasn’t alone.  There were so many of us, and every single other person there appeared to be smiling.  By the looks of it, it seemed there may indeed be life after loss.

The next morning I made my way down to registration and the first thing I saw on my way in was this:

An entire wall of loved ones, and mine was front and centre. Ben The Titan.

The second thing I saw that morning was Amanda.  She was standing right behind me in line.  Alone.  So I said “hi” and guess what?  She said “hi” right back.  Imagine that.

A bit later in the morning Amanda and I met up again after attending our seminars of choice, and she walked out with Mary.  So I said “hi” to Mary too, and Mary said “hi” right back.

That evening we all went to dinner and somehow I ended up standing next to Lynessa.  So I said “hi” to Lynessa, and Lynessa said “hi” right back.

And then this happened:

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And that, folks, is how you do it in Widow World.  You say “hi” and they say “hi” and the next thing you know you are dressing up in weird outfits and hanging out together late into the evening.  And then you hook up on FB and spend a lot of time sending ridiculous videos to each other and making plans for how they will pick you up at the airport when you arrive in Vegas in November.

Saturday night was the Masquerade Ball and you may recall that I wrote this paragraph (below) before I went to San Diego, when I did a “dress up practice run” at home:

There was no one to zip me up. I was enraged.  Did you ever watch the Friends episode where someone stole Ross’ sandwich at work and he turned into Red Ross? I turned into Red Wendy.  Maybe Whacko Wendy.  I lost my sanity, upstairs in my bathroom that day.  I went into a frenzy of twisting and turning and trying to reach behind me and push the zipper up, and when that didn’t work I tried to reach down to grab it.  I am not that flexible.  Nothing worked, and I was furious.”

After all that angst would you like to know how it turned out?  You probably think one of my new found friends zipped me up, but you’d be wrong.  I could have asked them and I’m quite sure they would have helped me out, but it turns out that I didn’t need to.  It seems I had discovered my widow comfort zone and I found myself walking up to a complete stranger at the elevator and asking, “Would you mind doing up the clasp on my dress?”  Guess what she said?  “Sure.”  And that’s all it took.  (Also, it turns out that Camp Widow offers a “Zip Up” service, but in my defence I didn’t realize that until after I was back home).

I learned a lot this weekend.  I learned how to support and be supported by strangers who became friends.  I learned how to laugh at some of the crazy things that happen to everyone when their person dies.  (Turns out pretty much everyone has been told “I know exactly how you feel.  My dog died.”  Don’t even get me going on that one … that’s for a whole other post.)  I learned that there are people way, way worse off than me and they are still smiling.  I learned that widows have a dark sense of humour and I am not the only one who thought it was hilarious that the hotel put the signs for a wedding reception and a widows camp right next to each other.

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(I cannot tell you how many widows I overheard saying things like “Should we give the bride a business card?”)

And finally, I learned that My Mother Was Right.  Everything has a way of working itself out just like she always says, and worrying is a big fat waste of time.  It turns out, after all, that I am in fact brave.

So, if anyone out there has experienced a loss and has considered going to Camp Widow in the past but was held back by fear … you should go.  Trust me on this one.  I wouldn’t steer another widow wrong.

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Who Will Zip Me Up?

I have recently discovered the latest in a list of annoyances caused by being a … a … a … (I still choke on the word “widow”) … alone.

As I write this post I am preparing to board a plane this afternoon for San Diego … Widows Camp.  There.  I said it.  I am forcing myself to go despite the almost unbearable amount of anxiety it is causing me.  I know, I know … I am going to meet with people who may actually understand me and all the shit I’ve gone through, and I should not be anxious about it.  But sometimes knowing how I should feel is just not the way I actually do feel, and this is one of those times.

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(That is not me, btw.  But it demonstrates quite well how I feel right now.)

There are plenty of reasons why I am so anxious about attending the camp.  Where do I start?  Flying alone, finding my way from the airport to the hotel without my husband, having to walk into that first room by myself and feeling like all eyes are on me, worrying that I will spend the weekend silent because if I talk I may burst into tears.  The list goes on.  But the biggest reason for my anxiety is actually the part that is intended to be the most fun …. the Masquerade Ball.

The Masquerade Ball, so lovingly planned by the woman who founded the Soaring Spirits Organization and intended to provide everyone with an evening to dress up and get out and have some fun, is causing me untold amounts of anxiety.  I am not a dress up kind of girl at the best of times, although I would comb my hair and throw on a nice blouse for my anniversary dinner each year.  Basically I live in yoga pants and tank tops – they’re comfortable and quite frankly I don’t really have anywhere to go that requires anything fancier.  Until now.

The Masquerade Ball is on Saturday night, and while there are several reasons I am anxious about it, here’s the top four:

1. I don’t know how to dance.  Ben was an awesome dancer.  For a big, rough looking man he sure had some good moves on the dance floor.  “Ben” was synonymous with “rhythm.”  I, on the other hand, never managed to advance much beyond the old 1-2 side to side shuffle.  (Unless I am drunk and surrounded by those who have known me forever and will love me no matter what.  Under those circumstances I am an awesome dancer.  And singer. Just sayin’)

2. I don’t know anyone.  Not knowing anyone raises those old teen anxieties of standing on the sidelines at the high school dance.  Yes, I know that many people arrive at camp without knowing a soul and people get to know each other before the Saturday night event.  Knowing that does not ease my anxiety, because secretly I fear being the first person to attend this camp who doesn’t make any friends, and therefore will be the high school student standing alone on the sidelines at the dance.

3.  I don’t really know what to wear to a masquerade ball.  It involves a dress.  The last time I wore one was at Ben’s funeral, and I looked terrible.  Yes … terrible.  I’ve seen myself on video and it wasn’t pretty.

4.  I don’t own an appropriate dress.  I do have a sundress that I have worn on one occasion when it was simply too hot for anything else, but the only pair of shoes that go with it are flip flops.  I don’t imagine that flip flops are appropriate for a masquerade ball.

Ever the practical person, I decided to try to ease my anxieties by dealing with each one head on to see if I could find some solutions that might help me to relax.

–       Reason 1.   The only way to fix this problem would be to take some dance lessons, and there wasn’t enough time.  So, the answer to this problem?  Try to look busy on the sidelines for awhile until I can make a discreet exit.

–       Reason 2.  Literally cannot be fixed until I arrive.  No solution for the time being so I may as well put it out of my mind.  Or just keep worrying about it.  Either way.

–       Reason 3.  Google told me that people wear fancy costumes and hold masks up in front of their faces.  I love the mask part (no need to apply make up) but the dress part?  Oh my.  Still, now that I know the answer I suppose it is technically no longer a problem.

–       Reason 4.   The answer to this one was easy … go and buy an appropriate dress.

I decided I could not go and buy a fancy gown like the ones that Google says are worn at Masquerade Balls because it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, but I figured I could find something slightly fancier than a sundress.  I spent about 7 hours in two different stores trying on gown after gown after gown and gagging at myself in the mirror.  When I was finally sweating like I had just finished a 10K from all the changing of clothes, I happened to see a plain black dress hanging on a hook.  Long.  Simple.  Rather elegant.  Comfortable.  Affordable.  And, hopefully with a little help from a pair of Spanx (and possibly dimmed lights) … it would fit.  Hallelujah!

The sales lady packaged it up and off I went, stopping at one other store to buy out every pair of Spanx they had along with seven different bras that I thought may possibly work under this dress. (This was not cheap, I might add). Finally I arrived home, squeezed myself into some Spanx, pulled on the extremely awkward strapless bra and stepped (almost excitedly) into the dress to see how it all worked.

And ….

There was no one to zip me up. 

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I was enraged.  Did you ever watch the Friends episode where someone stole Ross’ sandwich at work and he turned into Red Ross? I turned into Red Wendy.  I lost my sanity, upstairs in my bathroom that day.  I went into a frenzy of twisting and turning and trying to reach behind me and push the zipper up, and when that didn’t work I tried to reach down to grab it.  I am not that flexible.  Nothing worked, and I was furious.  I normally would have sat down and had a good cry, but I was just too mad.  I was mad at Ben for not being here and for leaving me to try to figure out how to get myself dressed for a Masquerade Ball all by myself.  (Not to mention that I wouldn’t have to attend this ball if he hadn’t gone and died on me.) I was mad at Ben for causing me to sweat so profusely in my efforts to practice zipping myself up that I left sweat stains on my brand new dress.  I was mad at Ben for dying.  Period.

When I finally sat down on the edge of the tub due to exhaustion from all my raging, it occurred to me that I clearly need this camp. 

Once I was calm I discovered that if I pull the dress over my head instead of stepping into it (thank God for jersey material), I only need the zipper to be down a few inches instead of all the way to my waist.  Then, if I sort of shimmy and pull at the same time I can manage to reach that last little bit of zipper and pull it up.  I felt like a bit of a warrior,  but I am still pissed in general that I no longer have anyone to zip me up.

Yes indeed, I do need this camp.  Hopefully my next post will not be about how the zipper burst during my crazy shimmying efforts to pull it up, and how I was left half naked at a Masquerade Ball standing on the sidelines.

Hug your family.

PS.  I also bought some pretty gold sandals to wear so I can ditch the flip flops.  Now I’m worried that I may be overdressed at the Ball.  😉

Memory Lane

This week Raegan and I caught the ferry over to The Sunshine Coast in southern BC and toured Gibsons and Sechelt. Gibsons was home to the filming of the television show “The Beachcombers” from 1972 to 1990.  It was also the first hometown to Wendy and Ben from 1993 to 1997.  It’s where we lived when we got married, it’s where we built our first home, and it’s where we had our first baby.

(L-R:  Rae at Molly’s Reach, the first house Ben lived in, the old Gibsons RCMP Det, the first house we rented together when we got married.)

Raegan and I played tourist and she humoured me while I drove around and told her a hundred stories that all started with “I remember one time, right in this very spot, Dad and I (insert memory here) …”  She was a good sport.  We ended up on the beach in Sechelt at the exact spot where Ben proposed to me.

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I felt my heart stop beating for a moment while I closed my eyes and let myself transport back to the very moment that Ben asked me to marry him.  I remembered it as vividly as if it were happening right then. The moment felt so close it was as though I could reach out to grab it, but it remained just beyond my outstretched fingertips.

Every step we took was filled with memories of the early days with Ben.  I had a memory for every street, every restaurant, every single place in town as though I was watching our lives play out in a movie.  I remembered the most mundane of times together, like walking home carrying a Costco sized package of toilet paper that was on sale and we wanted to stock up for cheap.  I could see us buying our first Christmas tree together and watching our first house being built, and I could smell the sod we rolled out together in the front yard. Being back in the place where it all started made the memories come to life. Everything was so familiar that it seemed if I listened hard enough I would hear his voice and his laugh. Not the voice of the man suffering in pain, but the voice of the boy I fell in love with when life was uncomplicated.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of my time with Ben, and I would do it all over even if I knew the ending before I started.  I want to say I regret nothing, but the truth is that I regret is not taking more time to slow down and appreciate our lives together just a little more than I did.  My parents always told me to appreciate the moments because life passes by faster and faster the older we get, but even as we age and realize that it’s true, something always seems to get in the way and prevent us from stopping and savouring in the simple things.

Work.  Schedules.  Sports.  Bills.  Mortgages.  Sometimes over the years I could feel my soul yelling “Stop!!” but my body just kept on plugging away.  There was always more work to do, more house to clean, more money to make to pay more bills that kept coming in.

Heading back over to the coast reminded me of a time with Ben when life was slower paced.  There was less to do in that small town and for two years we didn’t have kids to occupy our time.  It was just us.  Wendy and Ben.  Hanging out together on our days off,  watching movies late into the night and sleeping late into the mornings.  Hosting friends when we wanted, video taping each other just for fun and cracking each other up with our jokes.  Trying to learn how to cook in a kitchen so small that you could stand in the middle and touch the walls on each side if you reached your arms out.

When we moved over to the big city the size of our kitchens grew and the pace of our lives sped up.  It always felt as though we had to swim faster.  We forgot how to take the time to slow down and instead we dreamed of having that time in the future.  We forgot to shut the world out and just be Wendy and Ben, without any outside distraction, until the day came when we had no choice but to stop.

We had nine months to grab ahold of every moment just to be Wendy and Ben. That time was filled with appointments and pain and tears, but it was time we savoured. We remembered how to just be together.  We remembered how to shut the world out. And despite all the shitty things that happened during those nine months, I cherish every second of it because we were the only two people in the world who mattered.

Thank God for those trips down Memory Lane.  Long Live Love.