Staying Alive vs. Living

Apparently a lot of people, including me, are suffering from a kind of “re-entry anxiety.” Even though vaccinated, the doubt about who else or is not vaccinated has people continuing to wear masks after the CDC says they don’t have to, in most (but not all) settings.

For the first few weeks of this freedom, I still wore a mask any time I went inside a building that wasn’t my own house. I wore a mask at drive through windows of fast-food restaurants, because the people working there still had to, and I thought it was only fair.

I wore a mask to my first eye exam in years, and I was very nervous when the ophthalmologist, who was also wearing a mask, asked me if I was vaccinated, and to take my mask off. I asked if I had to, and he said no, but the exam might take longer because I’d fog up the lenses he was switching (“better, or worse? 1 or 2?”) I resolved to breathe downward and keep my mask on.

After a few weeks of what we’ve been told is unnecessary masking, I began to think, dammit, at some point I’m just going to have to trust the science and take the mask off. What’s the point of making it through a pandemic to vaccination if I’m just going to continue living in fear and isolation?

This accursed pandemic came along just as Angelic Daughter and I were close to regaining some kind of balance and normalcy, carrying our grief within us but moving forward with our lives. Staying in has made us wary, lonelier, and more than a little jumpy. But as we got through the first meet-ups, the first hugs with family and friends who don’t live with us, things started to ease a bit.

I’m still nervous about variants, and now in some places the recommendation is to put the masks back on because of them. I’m also waiting to hear from the next rounds of research about whether we’ll need booster shots. But I just can’t waste any more time being paranoid and freaked out. There really isn’t any point to just staying alive, if you aren’t going to actually live.

As the calendar moves along, days come that are harder than others. Father’s Day has been tough for us these past 5 years, with all the unavoidable, perky ads about stereotypical things to buy Dad (grills!) bombarding us every time we turn on the car radio. This year, we chose a simple activity to remember Mike – we went to Dairy Queen and had a small treat each. We used to take family bike rides there, with Mike riding Angelic Daughter on a tandem, and me pumping along on my own bike. It wasn’t a short ride, but it was a beautiful one, along a bike path that led through a forest preserve, and then through a residential neighborhood to the DQ at the end of the block. Then we stopped by the cemetery where Mike’s ashes are buried, and despite prolonged dry weather, the flowers I planted there on Memorial Day weekend were OK. I watered them anyway, and was happy when what I gave them was augmented by a much needed gully washer of a stormy downpour that night.

As for Independence Day, our tradition has been to have a picnic at Mike’s grave site on the 4th, and we did that again this year, but on the 3rd, because the 4th was predicted to be very hot (it was) and we wanted to save a trip in case we wanted to go out near there to watch fireworks (we didn’t).

I’ve been spending every fair weekend doing yard work until I can barely stand. It makes me very sweaty and quite happy. But it is a solitary pursuit. For my next act, I have to find things to do that might actually put me in the company of people unrelated to me, with shared interests, who might become new friends. I’ve never had a lot of friends, and I’ve always been happy in my own company, but the lack of social interaction during work-from-home has affected me.

My wonderful employer is likely to let me work from home indefinitely, which is great (saves so much gas money, and gets me out in the yard as soon as I log off). But I don’t want to be just the solitary “widow with the garden.” I love to sing. I love to make people laugh. When I can figure out a way to do that again that feels safe, maybe I can get out there and make some new friends.

Wish me luck!

Until then I remain,

your less-frequently masked, still a little jumpy but feeling more confident,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

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