“See you next year, Fourth of July!” says Angelic Daughter, as she removes the special magnet denoting the day from her perpetual calendar.

For the second year in a row, we didn’t attend The Parade (our little town’s annual event that in years past has quintupled the population for a day). It just didn’t seem like fun to watch a vehicles-only, socially distanced, spread-out “parade” with no decorated bikes, no sometimes-funny-but-always-offensive lawn mower drill team, and no marching bands. I suppose the inevitable high school garage band appeared on a truck this year as always, playing “Louie Louie” just like my brother’s band did fifty years ago, but this year I would have had trouble seeing the charm.

We’ve always called the holiday just “the 4th” or “the 4th of July,” but Angelic Daughter also knows the day as Independence Day (though I’m not sure she understands that beyond “America’s birthday” – birthdays are one of her “things,” and if you tell her yours, she’ll never forget it).

I think about independence a lot, in the context of trying to prepare Angelic Daughter for it. A parent’s only real job is to enable their children eventually to live without them.

For those who are not the parent of an autistic person, or other person with different needs, “independence” means something else. Unfortunately, it seems the idea of “independence” has gotten warped in some sectors of America into a notion of freedom defined as “every person for themselves.” Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who refuse to accept their responsibility as members of a community larger than themselves, and don’t seem to care about the impact their decisions have on others, invoke “freedom” as their rationale.

We used to care about each other more. That intensifies my worry about the inevitable, and preparing Angelic Daughter for it, and finding caring, loving people who will stand up for and with her, to keep her safe and help her have a full and happy life.

Among Angelic Daughter’s many beautiful qualities is that she is innately incapable of holding a grudge. Her first response to a slight or a disappointment inflicted thoughtlessly by a friend or family member is to forgive, and to send wishes that everyone get over their “upsetnesses,” anger, and frustration, and feel better soon. She wants everyone to get along, and be happy.

Of the many lessons learned from losing Mike, letting go of resentment, anger, and feeling wronged was probably the most important. A few years ago, I had lunch with two high school classmates I hadn’t seen in decades – and came away burdened with stories of harm inflicted and pain suffered that persisted long after both these friends had been divorced. One offered to stay with Angelic Daughter occasionally, but I don’t want grudgey, put-upon, unforgiving, angry, vindictive people around my daughter.

Which is why the available pool of family members who might participate in future care for Angelic Daughter got reduced by one this weekend. Out of the blue, this person spewed personal invective into a family chat used for upbeat updates about what everyone’s up to.

And persisted in it even after a reminder that Angelic Daughter was a part of the chat.

This person is older than I am, so it’s not very realistic to think they would have been involved in Angelic Daughter’s life for very long in the future. Nevertheless, the willingness to disregard the effect on innocent bystanders of insults directed at another family member in a family chat is an instant disqualification.

It makes me sad when anyone allows themselves to be controlled by, motivated by, or mired in past wrongs, real or perceived. Letting go is one of the best ways to gain independence I know. Learning how to let go before letting go is forced upon you by loss is an opportunity not to be squandered. Wallowing warps what you have left of life; why would you want to do that? What’s the point of hanging onto hurt and making it the center of your existence? That’s not independence, that’s a trap.

I wish you independence, even if it means completely reinventing your life. It’s the one life you have, so wasting it fixated on resentment and settling scores will fill you with regret when you suddenly realize you’re out of time. Do you really know life at all? (an amazing version of Both Sides Now sung by Seal, who takes that song way, way down deep, making you respect Joni’s genius and the song’s lasting profundity. If you don’t think of it as profound, his version will change your mind).

Striving (often failing, but trying) to live and speak each day as if any moment could be my last, I remain,

your imperfectly independent,


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,


Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

Thinking Thematically

I got a notification that my stats had experienced a surge yesterday, January 18, 2021, when this blog post was at the top of my home page.

I can’t explain it, other than maybe some weird, misguided attraction to the word “revolution,” which, used here, is just another way of saying “resolution.” As in New Year’s.

The phrase that contains the word links back to a post I wrote a few years ago, about changing things as a way to keep going after my husband died of cancer. So if anyone came looking for something darker, I hope they were very, very disappointed. And I hope they never come back.

I used to make a list of New Year’s “Revolutions.” The idea of changing something that I can’t change back has helped me keep moving ahead, in these years without Mike.

We just passed our 5th New Year’s Even without him. It was weird. Angelic Daughter went to bed early and slept through the sounds of fireworks from somewhere close by. I was surprised they even had them this year.

I finally turned on the TV to watch the last 45 minutes or so of the odd, empty Times Square celebrations, flipping back and forth until I settled on CNN as the most entertaining. I was lucky to land there just in time to see Andra Day sing a stunningly beautiful rendition of “Imagine.”

The recorded music that played after the ball drop included Ray Charles’ version of “America,” which made me cry, thinking that we sure could use some more of God’s grace shed on us right now.

I waited until it was midnight in Chicago to open the Veuve Clicquot. We tried it years ago, before it cost $40 a bottle, and liked it. Made it a tradition for New Year’s Eve. When Mike was here, I remember describing the flavor as “like drinking liquid gold glitter.” This year, it tasted too dry to me.

I’ve always been vaguely aware that the Veuve Clicquot brand was run by a widow, taking over for her husband in the late 1700s. But I wasn’t thinking about Madame Clicquot when I bought the bottle – I was just thinking of remembering Mike on New Year’s Eve.

When I got the bottle out of the fridge, I noticed something on the back label that I hadn’t before: there’s a line across the bottom that says, “La Veuve The Widow Die Witwe La Viuda La Viuva.”

Wow. Rub it in, much? “Widow,” in 5 languages!

I’ve never felt more widow-y than in 2020. Being responsible for Angelic Daughter’s safety this year has been nerve wracking. “Don’t take your mask off!” “Wash your hands for two Happy Birthdays!” DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!”

I hope my bouts of hysterical maternal protection haven’t made things harder for Angelic Daughter. She’s been so resilient and patient, but the loneliness is getting to her. She misses her friends. She reaches out with texts and calls, but half are never answered. She sends greeting cards. Of the twenty or so friends she has sent cards to, five have responded. Yet she doesn’t lose hope.

“Almost to the New Year!” “Almost Martin Luther King Day!” “We’ll have meet-ups again soon!”

I guess I can be excused for not building a business empire of my own, like Madame Clicquot did, this past year. But that line on her champagne label made me look back on those past New Year’s Eves with Mike with a chill – that portent, a warning, staring us right in the face. I didn’t notice it then, but I’ll never forget it now.

Recently, I found out about a different way to look at aspirations for a new year: choosing one word to guide your actions, instead of making a list of resolutions. Apparently this is something Melinda Gates popularized.

I’ve been trying to come up with my word for 2021. Gates has used “grace,” “shine,” “spacious,” and “gentle.”

I want a word that helps me focus on what’s truly important. I want a word that filters out the noise, and helps me live with love and laughter. This past year has been a tough test for both of those.

I thought of “purpose,” but that’s not quite it. “Meaning” doesn’t seem quite right, either. I want a word that evokes an appreciation for the preciousness of time–that every second matters, and I should live that way.

Intentionality? Nah, too new-agey-trendy. Savor? Makes me think of food. What one word would encapsulate the desire to make every minute count?

“Urgency” sounds too desperate. I’m trying to stay calm here, but focus on what’s important. “Clarity” is good, but I think Ms. Gates has used that one, and I don’t want to be a copycat.

How about “lucid?” The synonyms for that one get into bright, gleaming, luminous, etc. I checked for synonyms for “present,” as in “I’m here,” but I was looking for a word that implies being present-mindfully, lovingly, present.

That brought me back to “now.” Why didn’t I think of that? Actually, I did think of that, a few years ago, in much the same way.

So, I think I’ve got it. My word for 2021 will be “now.” That’s a word that will help me attend to how I’m spending my time, each moment of each day, without before and after.

Happy I spent “now” writing this for you, I remain,

your flawed, anxious, trying to stay calm and attentive,