The Widow Rules

I make lists of arbitrary “rules,” for holidays, or for living as a middle-aged woman, or for taking fall excursions.

But haven’t made the obvious list for this blog: The Widow Rules.

Angelic Daughter and I are rounding the bases of the fifth set of holidays and anniversaries without Mike, the calendar shoving us toward August, and the fifth anniversary of his death. I’ve written about how I think ritualizing these milestones is probably unhealthy.

But five years feels significant. From the frantic activity of the first year, to the breakdown toward the end of the second, to the slow healing of the third, Angelic Daughter and I have been through a lot together.

Then in year 4, the pandemic hit. I’d go out only for groceries, prescriptions, or essential medical appointments. I’d watch helplessly as the isolation took its toll on my daughter. Crawling along, day by day, issuing the same reassurances, that it will end, it will be over, eventually.  We will get to see our friends and family again. Sometime.

But the dream of a life beyond grief and loneliness is fading. Retirement, travel, meeting new people, finding a new man, even wanting or desiring a new man at all, seem lost or unattainable to me now.

But losing hope is against the rules (that rule is implied by the others).

So here’s what I’ve got, for a nearly 5-years widow:

1. Clean it when you notice it.

Little tasks add up and aren’t overwhelming, like taking on an entire room. I don’t pressure myself to maintain a pristine household. I shoot for a reasonably healthy one. No one’s coming over now, anyway, and they may not, ever, even “when COVID is over.”

2. Enjoy what you see in the mirror.

I have naturally curly hair. Deal with it. I’m not blow-drying it for anyone, anymore. I gave Angelic Daughter and myself do-it-yourself haircuts when we couldn’t take the shagginess of nearly a year without a visit to the salon anymore. We turned out looking pretty good. Cute, even. But I don’t care if you don’t think so. I like it, and that’s what counts, now. Besides, the Bulgarian is the only man I have ever known, including male relatives and my late husband, who ever noticed a haircut of mine within 72 hours, if ever, anyway. And he was getting paid to work on the house, so being nice was in his best interest.

I’m still using my “skin care for the apocalypse,” exercising regularly, drinking more water daily, and cutting down (or completely abstaining, at least until two weeks after my next vaccine shot and I’m as immune as I’ll get) on certain liquid comforts (used for ‘medicinal purposes,’ as my Dad used to say, on his way back to the bar cart), which has done wonders for my skin. I’ve always enjoyed my face in the mirror, and I still do, when it’s rested, eye-creamed, made-up, and most importantly, lipsticked. But I do that for me. Nobody else ever notices anyway.

3. Forgive yourself.

I can’t change the past. All I can do is change how I think about it, or just let it go. I can try to create a better “past” for my future by reminding myself to live with compassion, humility, forgiveness, and gentleness. When I fail, as I regularly do, I try to forgive myself, and get right back on that horse.

4. Keep learning.

Since starting my job a year and a half ago, I’ve learned how to use about 7 new types of software, plus 4 online tools relevant to my work. I communicate in gifs with my colleagues, as they like to do. Learning new things keeps the mind nimble, it’s fun, and it makes me feel like life is still moving forward–not stuck in stop-time, COVID time, grief time, loneliness time.

5. After you’ve done what you must, do what you love.

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing what I thought was my duty: trying to please my parents, taking care of my husband and child, trying not to screw up. I still have important duties, like staying employed and covered by health insurance, and helping Angelic Daughter learn independent living skills, even if she is too stressed out by loss and isolation to even discuss an independent future. But I refuse to feel guilty about doing what I love, like writing, and, “when COVID is over,” singing, even if it drives my daughter nuts, once I’ve done what I must. Life is happening now, not after I finish the next chore.

I don’t know if these “rules” will help any other widows. I hope they do. Maybe have your own rules to share. Please do. Until then, I remain,

your one-day-at-a-time, enjoy-the-sun-while-it-shines, fail-and-get-up-again,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

Generations

dino ash tray

Apparently there’s a meme eruption ongoing on Twitter about how Gen X reacts to both Boomers and Millennials, sandwiched as Xers are between those two large and influential generations.

“Just remember, ” says the caption to a still from the Breakfast Club (“Brat Pack”), for every Boomer that hates a Millennial, there’s a generation in between that hates you both.”

There are reminders of Boomers trying to squash heavy metal music (remember Tipper Gore and Dee Snider?) and GIFs of Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller subtly smirking.

I’ve never determined exactly which generation I identify with, or as. Technically, I’m supposed to be a Boomer, but I’m at the tail end of that very broad generation. I’m told I’m “Generation Jones,” exhausted by the sheer mass of the older Boomers (my eldest brother’s cohort) scorching the earth ahead of me, and leaving me with…the late ’70s. Feh.

I also identify with older Xers – the John Hughes movie generation, like Molly Ringwald as the kid whose birthday was forgotten because all the focus was on an older sibling. The in-between feeling has always been there: I remember exactly where I was when John Kennedy, John Belushi, Kurt Cobain, and Chris Farley died. Where does that put me on the generational spectrum?

Like Jonesers or Xers or whatever I am, I tended to keep my head down, and just got on with it. My older brother’s cohort made so much noise that there just wasn’t any point to it by the time I was old enough to vote. My absentee ballot arrived in Oxford, England, where I was on a program of study abroad, after Ronald Reagan had already been elected. I rode my bike to the Old Bodley (Bodleian Library) in tears that day.

I got good grades, did what I thought would make my parents happy, and went to an exceptional liberal arts college with such an eclectic student body that I graduated with only one friend, since vanished from my life. I went on to make a lot of choices that delayed gratification, put me on a painful career track that was all wrong for me, and left me as the “on call” adult child for parental care giving (with the notable exception of my Mother’s last year of life, when my eldest brother stepped in because, even though I was closest, my own responsibilities made it impossible for me to be there daily for her.)

But something interesting has happened with the younger Millennials/older Gen Zers, (who make up a large portion of my work colleagues.) I’ve felt very little generational tension, if any. Sure, when the “question of the day” comes up around 2:30 in the afternoon as a brief break in a relentlessly busy day, my answers are often recognizable to my coworkers as something their grandparents might say, but nobody ever gives me grief about it. The only reaction I get is one of genuine interest, appreciation, or non-judgmental curiosity.

Of course, I’m clueless about a lot the the stuff they’re into – I know nothing about multiplayer videogames, and I’ve usually never heard of the cartoons, TV programs or toys they remember fondly. But I jump in with an answer that is generation-specific. Favorite cartoons? Why, Looney Tunes, of course–the Bugs Bunny show!

“Overture, coit-an lights!
Dis is it, da night of nights!
No more re-hoising, or noissing a paht!
We know every paht by haht!”

(the Mel Blanc-voiced, Brooklyn-accented Bugs!)

Road Runner, Yosemite Sam, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha! Thanks to YouTube, maybe some of my colleagues will discover these older cartoons, from the era where Saturday morning cartoons were uproariously funny, full of double entendre for parents who were watching (“I’ll unhorse thee, Sir Loin of Pork!” “I’ll run you through, Sir Hosis of the Liver!”) and much too violent to get by today–but hey, they were cartoons!

One question last week was about the relative coolness of particular dinosaurs. I was not among the generation of children who became obsessed with dinosaurs. We were more obsessed with astronauts–and my interest stretched from Flash Gordon to Star Trek to Star Wars. But I was able to offer a little quiz with a photo of the object pictured above. Identify the company and the business it was in, and bonus points for what the object was. Of course, Google solved the riddle almost immediately, and one of my colleagues even found a picture of a gas station with a giant green dinosaur mascot on a lawn next to the pumps. These places are gone in my area, but apparently still exist out west. Who knew?

Did you come of age feeling sandwiched between generations? Tell me your story.

Until then, I remain,

your generationally confused, but not particularly worried about it,

Ridiculouswoman

What’s That Fluttery Feeling?

Photo by Chelsea Curry

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

– Emily Dickinson, via the Poetry Foundation

Nailed it, Emily.

A very rare yellow cardinal was spotted in an Illinois backyard in February.

That yellow cardinal reminded me that “rare” doesn’t mean “impossible,” that hope isn’t foolish–it’s reasonable, necessary, and wonderful. That yellow cardinal made me realize I’d been suppressing hope for too long.

Last Wednesday, I was scrolling through my email and noticed an email from my health care network. I hadn’t visited the doctor recently, so I was puzzled.

I opened the message and was elated to find an invitation to make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.

I got shaky. I logged in and grabbed the first appointment listed, but the system returned a “try again.” I got frantic. Was this one going to turns into a days or weeks-long ordeal, staying online 24/7, refreshing my screen, logging out and in, to try to snare an appointment?

I tried the next available appointment, and miraculously, it went through. Success!

I got my first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine at my local hospital on Friday morning. My second shot is April 2. I should achieve as much immunity as the shots can confer (95% effective) by April 16.

I thought I had been handling all this OK. Angelic daughter and I had settled into a routine that sustained us. We knew what would happen when, which day of the week I’d mask up and go to the grocery store, what time of day we’d take breaks together, and what was for dinner each night. The most I’d say about when we could get vaccinated was “eventually-maybe by May or June.”

Until I got that appointment booked, I hadn’t realized how shut down I’d been, avoiding looking forward, or imagining how things might be “when COVID is over.” When the system confirmed my appointment and issued instructions (where to park, don’t get there more than 15 minutes early, etc.), hope became real for me.

The hospital marched dozens of people through for their shots in just minutes, and found places for everyone in the “observation” room where you go for 15 minutes after the shot, to make sure there are no adverse reactions. They even had a cheerful “greeter” chirping “thanks for coming!”

While I was in the observation room, a stocky man with scraggly grey hair entered. He was offered a seat but said no, he’d stand. He went and stood behind the chair of a tired-looking, grey-haired woman. He said something cheerful to her. Obviously, they were a couple, and he was comforting and reassuring his other half.

I found that touching, and a little painful. Mike hasn’t been here to go through all this with us, and he wasn’t there to go through the hope and joy of the first vaccine shot with me, either.

But I think he’s been around.

There’s been a new owl in the neighborhood since last spring.

Yesterday, we sat outside on the deck, which has emerged from under 30 inches of (now melted) snow. As sunset approached, that owl flew overhead, low enough to hear its wings whoosh, as it had done last spring.

Last year, I could barely buy enough mouse traps to cope with the winter rodent invasion. A chipmunk got into the house too, leaping out at me from a cubby in my desk hutch.

This winter, we didn’t have a single mouse in the house, and no rogue chipmunks scritching around, stealing insulation from the wall adjoining the garage.

I think I have that owl to thank for that. Maybe he was watching out for us, doing what he could.

Now, it’s a waiting game until Angelic Daughter gets her invitation. In the meantime, my jab of hope has inspired me to step up my self-care. I’ve even allowed myself to start thinking about traveling to meet a great-nephew, now three years old, and about when I could get to Maine, or a concert, ball game, or show.

Hope gives me the resolve to live a more complete life. I’m determined to soak in every glorious second of it. I feel like I’ve been given bonus round, a spectacular second chance, and I’m going to do my best not to screw it up.

Here’s hoping your invitation is on its way. Until then I remain,

your hopeful, energized, slightly giddy, but still cautious, masked, and socially distanced,

Ridiculouswoman