Live Life

Live life.

Good advice, right?  I have always liked to pass that piece of advice onto my kids whenever I had the opportunity.  “Take time off before University.  Go see the world.  Live your life while you can.”  That’s what we used to say to them. We had all sorts of tidbits of advice which included, “Happiness is a choice, so choose it.”  “Be a good person.” “Work hard.” “Be kind” and “Live Your Life.  We only get one of them.”

But then Ben died, and everything changed.  I became torn between wanting my kids to live their lives and wanting them home with me every second.  I became obsessed with controlling everything they did, even when I knew I was being ridiculous.  Even when a little voice inside my head told me to lay off or they would say “Sayonara Mama” and move right out of this house so that they no longer had me breathing down their necks.  Even when I caused my son immense frustration (sorry Zak).  Even when I made my daughter cry.

It seems that after Ben died I no longer wanted them to live the life they wanted … I wanted them to live the life that I wanted.  And I wanted them home, safe, and with me every minute.

I got a bit of a wake up call last April.  It was Jaime’s 18th birthday.  Her second birthday without her Dad, even though he’d barely been gone a year. We found out he was dying just a few days before her 16th birthday, and he died right before her 17th birthday.  (And here’s an odd little fact, if I may digress for a moment. We had to actually look at a calendar to pick the right day to tell the kids that their Dad was dying. Strange, huh?  It reminded me of choosing a date for a birthday party.  “No, we can’t do it on that Saturday because there’s a soccer game.”  “The next one won’t work either because we have that work thing.”  “OK, lets do it mid week, after school, but before my evening meeting.”  We didn’t want to tell the kids before Zak could take his cake to celebrate his one year of sobriety, and we didn’t want to ruin Jaime’s 16th birthday, so we found a date right in the middle.  It was odd to sit back and pick a day to ruin everyone’s lives, but now, two years later,  nobody needs to think about how their special day was ruined by the shittiest news ever.  So that’s good, I suppose.)

Anyway, back to my point.  Last April Jaime celebrated her 18th birthday.  She had clearly had a couple of super shitty years filled with sickness and death, followed by intense grieving and everything that was the opposite of living.  And on her 18th birthday, she and her boyfriend decided that she should live life, so he bought her the future opportunity to go sky diving.  WHAT???!!!

I lost my shit.  Lost it.  The mother who had always wanted her kids to lead full and exciting lives completely lost her shit over the possibility of her daughter living an exciting life.  I screamed and yelled and complained about how terrible it was that her boyfriend was causing me to suffer more stress and anxiety.  Hadn’t I already suffered enough??  I actually said that.  Yelled it, really.  I told Jaime that it was selfish and inconsiderate to cause me further distress. I ranted and raved and I may have even cried.  I know for sure that I made Jaime cry.

If I hadn’t already lost my Mother Of The Year award, and I probably had, I certainly lost it that day.

I recall spending the next few days thinking about how Ben would have reacted.  I was tempted to believe that he wouldn’t have wanted his precious little peanut to risk her life and he would have emphatically said “NO.” (Followed by laying a beating on the boyfriend for purchasing this gift.)  I really tried to convince myself that is how it would have gone down.  Eventually I gave up, because I knew it wasn’t true.  That’s not what Ben would have said at all.

He would have said, “Live your life.”  Well, actually he first would have turned to me and said (insert tone and sarcasm here), “In 25 years of Emergency Service, how many people do you know of that fell out of the sky when their parachute didn’t open?”  I would have then taken him by surprise by answering, “One” (because it’s true.  There actually was one), but he would have said “Well, that’s still pretty good odds it’s not going to happen to Jaime.”  Then he would have told Jaime, “Live your life.”

After all, this was the Dad who raised his daughters to not only believe, but to know without a doubt that there was nothing they couldn’t do in this life.  Ben was not the Dad who coddled and babied his little girls.  In fact, when they occasionally tried to bat their eyelashes to get something out of him it would actually piss him off.  He did not dig manipulation and he made that quite clear.  If one of the girls wanted to be sure of being told “NO” from their Dad, batting eyelashes and twirling hair was a sure way to make it happen.  Ben raised his girls to be strong.  To be independent.  To be straight forward.  To be the kind of woman that said, “I would like to try sky diving.”

We worked hard to raise strong girls with an enthusiasm for all that life could offer.  Was it really reasonable for me to be surprised that Jaime listened and actually learned from that?  Was it so hard to believe, that after two years of death, sadness, and grieving, that she might want to feel alive again?  And wasn’t that probably a good thing?

I was scared shitless for her to follow through with this idea of skydiving.  I imagined the impossibility of having to suffer through another unimaginable loss.  And then I wondered if it would really make me happy for Jaime to live in a bubble and never take any risks, just so that I wouldn’t have to suffer again.  And I realized that to ask her to live like that was to ask her to sacrifice her life and her happiness.  For me.  That is not something the mother in me wants for my kids.

Meet Jaime.  This is what she did last week.  Look at her smile.

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She lives her life.

I will try to remember to live mine, too.

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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2017 – Living With Joy

On January 1st last year I wrote “Welcome 2016” which was interesting considering that I knew what 2016 would bring.  The year wasn’t really “welcome” at all because I knew that every moment was a final moment, and it was the last time I would ring in a new year with My Ben.

2016 was not my best year, but I hesitate to say it was all bad because it wasn’t.  We no longer have Ben and that is one change that we will never be OK with, but we are slowly adjusting.  I am grateful for the fact that Ben has now been pain free for longer than he suffered.  I am grateful for the growth in my relationships with my kids.  I am grateful that 2016 brought with it an acute awareness that life is short and needs to be grabbed onto and really experienced, not just survived.  After all, none of us are going to come out of it alive.

At some point over the last year, someone sent me this:

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The picture on the right sums up my experience fairly well thus far.  So far I’ve covered every stage from the top left down to the bottom and slightly up the right side to depression.  A lot of my year has been spent stuck in the anger stage, and I have stopped short of the “re-entry troubles.”  (Not sure what I am supposed to re-enter into.)  I also think I have skipped a few stages because I have moved up the right hand side of the picture and developed a few new relationships, found new strengths, and created new patterns.  However, Hope, Affirmation, Helping Others and Loss Adjustment elude me still. Something to look forward to in 2017.

Tonight was supposed to be our wedding anniversary.  We really wanted to get married on New Years Eve so that we’d always have something to celebrate, and it just so happened that December 31st, 1994 was a Saturday.  (Go ahead.  Look it up).  We were forced to change the date due to some travel issues, and for the first time in 22 years I’m glad we didn’t say our vows on New Years Eve.  I don’t think I could bear tonight without Ben if it was also our anniversary.

I spent a lot of the day today thinking about how fleeting life is, and how we get one shot to fulfill our dreams, to find daily joy, to really live life.  A lot of snippets of various media clips jumped out at me today as though Ben was forcing them upon me.  “What is life if it isn’t lived with joy?” was one of them.  “You miss 100% of the shots you never take” was another.  Thank you Hedley.  One that really made me pause was something to the effect of “you will never be truly happy if you continue to live your life the way others think you should.”  Well now.  That one really hit home.

I have spent the last year wrestling with the question “to retire or not to retire.”  In my job a person can retire with a pension penalty at 20 years of service, but a person’s earliest retirement date without any penalty is 24 years plus 1 day.  I started my chosen career on March 1st, 1993.  You do the math. (Funny side note here, I can specifically remember the day I was in training when I found out my first possible retirement date.  I clearly remember calling my Mom from Saskatchewan and saying “You will not believe this … I will only be 46 years old when I can retire with full pension!”  I also remember thinking how far in the future that was….silly young girl that I was.)

In actual fact I have been thinking about leaving my job for many more years than just this last one.  Ben and I first planned for me to leave around 2007 when I had 14 years of service so that I could be home full time with the kids, where we both really believed I was needed.  That plan was thwarted when Ben was unexpectedly in a bad car accident at work that sidelined him and resulted in a loss of the overtime pay that we counted on. So I kept working, and by the time that whole mess was straightened out I suddenly had 18 years of service.  With that much service it seemed foolish to leave before attaining my 20 year pension, so onward I went.  As my 20 year mark approached we were waiting for Raegan’s braces to go on, and the orthodontist kept delaying them due to problems with her jaw. Since we are rather thrifty (ok, more Ben than I) we wanted to take advantage of our dual insurance coverage, so again we waited. Finally Raegan got her braces on and our insurance kicked in, however our insurer reimbursed us monthly until the coverage ran out as opposed to paying everything up front.  I continued to work in order for those insurance payments to come in.

Ben died on January 13th, 2015.  We received the last insurance payment for Raegan’s braces the same month.

In 2016 I continued to work because “everyone” says you shouldn’t make any changes for a year after a serious loss.  I thought that was probably decent advice for the most part, but recently I met someone who (gasp) decided to sell her house and make a move back east before the full 365 days had passed.  She is still alive and kicking.  So is her son.  I know this because I follow her on Facebook.  So what exactly is the worst thing that can happen if I make a change that I have wanted for so long?”  Death?  Doubtful.  Regret?  Maybe.  But regret is really a choice I think.  After all, don’t we teach our kids to be resilient?  Don’t we tell them that if something doesn’t work out, get back up and try something else?  And in any case I find it hard to believe that I will regret a decision I have consistently wanted for the last decade.

You want to know what I really regret?  I regret not leaving my job ten years ago, despite Ben’s accident and loss of overtime, and instead moving to a smaller and more affordable home and devoting my time to my husband and kids like they deserved.  I regret not being a full time mother and a wife, which is a job that both Ben and I believed was the most important job there could ever be.  I regret that we placed too much importance on the need to provide “things” for our kids, although it was done with the best of intentions. But despite the best of intentions it was definitely a mistake.  And while I cannot change the past I can certainly change the future while I still have time to do so.

I am afraid to make this big leap without Ben by my side to tell me it’s the right thing to do.  I am not sure that I am brave enough to do it and I spent the majority of each day of the holidays talking to myself and going over numbers, and trying to convince myself to be brave enough to take that leap.  I am scared because I don’t really know what I want to do from here, but I also know that I will probably never figure that out if I don’t just make the leap.  I think I need to be forced to discover what I really want to do to bring purpose and fulfillment to my life.  Before it is too late.  I want to live my life happily on my terms, for myself.  And I want to do it for Ben too.  He would want me to be brave, and to push myself, and to move outside my comfort zone.  He would want me to be happy.  To regret nothing.

If anyone has a little courage they can pass my way, please send it.  I need a little push to take this leap (and possibly an idea for a new job.)

If this were a “normal” year, Ben and I would have written down our goals for the next 365 days, because a goal that isn’t written down is just a wish.  (Thanks for that, Ben.) So here I write for all to read, that my goal for this next year is to be brave, to step outside my comfort zone, and to live life on my own terms.  I am going to search for bits of joy to take away from our tragedy.

As I sign off I can hear the neighbourhood erupting in noise.  Happy New Year.