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

Tree for Two

Mike used to make us wait to the second week of December to get a tree, but Angelic Daughter and I went to fetch one from the big box hardware store early on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Double masked and distanced, I motored in to the outdoor section where the Christmas trees were. Since Mike died, we’ve been getting smaller trees that don’t require me to get up on a ladder to do the lights or the tree topper. Falling and breaking a hip or an arm would be, erm, …. non-optimal.

I went straight for the 6′-7′ section, grabbed one of the shortest trees, gave it a cursory once-over and decided it would do.

Self-check out, and I stood back a good 20 feet while the chain-saw guy cut a slice off the end so the tree could absorb water better. Asked him to chuck it over the chain that separated me from the saw area. Picked it up off the floor, stuffed in the back of the Subaru, and off we went.

The annual Christmas tree fight Mike and I used to have about the tree originated mostly from our inability to use our tree stand correctly. It has a foot pedal in its base, and a separate piece you attach to the trunk of the tree.

You’re supposed to fit the tree, with the separate piece attached, into the base. Then you depress the foot pedal and waggle the tree around until one of you pronounces it straight.

The problem was, we rarely remembered that the piece attached to the trunk is supposed to snap in to the bottom of the base.

For 17 years, we waggled the tree, pronounced it straight, and pushed the foot pedal back into the base, which was supposed to lock the tree in place. It rarely worked, and we settled for teetering trees in danger of keeling over.

This year, I got the tree stand to work the way it’s supposed to after just a few tries. I got the “click” I needed when I lopped off a few more branches to get the attachable base high up enough on the tree.

Minor waggling, and it was straight. Push the pedal in, locked!

Then for the lights. I tested the strings before I started. Predictably, when I got lights around the entire tree and plugged them in, the top half didn’t light up.

Sigh.

My old self would have spend a good 15 minutes swearing and yelling. This year, redoing the lights seemed like a minor inconvenience. Second time around, they lit up just fine. I probably just hadn’t plugged them together tightly enough. Sigh.

We used to put the tree in front of the bay window in our “library” room. I turned that room into a dining room that could seat six. It’s kind of a combo library/dining room with a clubby atmosphere – reading chairs in the window, and another in a corner by the bookcases. I love it, sloppy paint job and all.

The front room, where the fireplace is, to me has always been a more natural habitat for a Christmas tree. My idea for that room was a kind of pseudo-eighteenth/nineteenth century parlor, where guests have conversation before dinner, and the ladies retire after dinner to sip and chat, while the gentlemen enjoy their brandy (but no cigars, not in this house) in the clubby dining room.

I went overboard. Too much furniture. I’ll find another place for four chairs, or sell at least two of them. I liked two I bought online for their eighteenth century shape and animal pattern. Online, the background had appeared to be a lovely gold color.

It turned out to be a pucey- green, which I don’t like, and which doesn’t go with the room. They’re in my “budoir” now. My mid-century looking plum velvet chair is in the basement, all to make room for the Christmas tree. I’ll switch it all back after Christmas, and figure out what to do with the ancestress rocker, as well.

All this talk of excess furniture and guest-worthiness is meaningless until vaccines are more widely available and enough people have taken them, sometime around the end of the third quarter of 2021.

There will be no happy guests and lively conversation this year. It’s just us, with a tree for two.

I got an email from a friend this week, bemoaning the loss of our annual holiday brunch with another friend. But we’re in it to win it, being as careful as we can. We’re hoping to be around next year for a mimosa-saturated good time.

By then, maybe this house will finally see the dinner parties with friends I had hoped to host.

Until then, I remain,

Your double-masked-with-filter-inside, hand-washing, diligently distancing,

Ridiculouswoman