autumn days

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Daring to Dream with Alternate Realities

M planned every detail of every trip for our family for the last 18 years.  Now he is not here to plan for us anymore.  Along with a million other details, trip planning is now one of my new jobs.  M wouldn't fly under any circumstances.  He had an awful flight once and decided his feet needed to stay on the ground.  On the other hand, I took flying lessons as a teenager and adore getting into the sky. 

With the new gut-wrenching freedom that comes with losing a partner, I want to see the world.  I would love to be a worldschooler, to travel the world with my children.  I had the fantasy of backpacking Europe with my children long before I was a mother.  Maybe that fantasy has been there for a  reason.  Maybe one day I will get to do just that, and more.  Now is the time when I stay rooted in our routines, getting the kids onto the school bus and tackling financial projects for most of the day, driving children to classes, keeping up with homework, and taking my own classes once a month. 

And now is also the time when I dream about the possibilities.  I call these alternate realities.  I love my alternate realities.  When M was dying of lung cancer, I had many alternate realities: he would get well again, he would love a long time on immunotherapy, we would all travel together, M would be able to make one more video or write one card to his children, friends would move in and help me care for M, my cousins would visit us, and all my family's needs would be met.  Beginning on diagnosis day and continuing for four months, my focus and energy went mainly to caring for our children and supporting M as he and our extended family reached for a cure.  After he died, I focused on the memorial service and learning to manage the details of our home and supporting my brother-in-law as he took over the family business.  I was not as easily dreaming of the possibilities anymore.

In trying to raise my own energy, I am now intentionally focusing on the many possibilities of my life as a single-mother of three young children.  I see myself sitting with friends playing board games, laughing until my stomach hurts, feeling satisfied after a big meal, driving across the country with friends to see what is out there, my children taking gymnastics or martial arts, sitting on a warm beach, living in another country, getting my hair cut wildly short, sleeping in a bed by myself, eating a whole pint of chocolate ice cream by myself, writing love letters to all my beloved friends, my estranged brother speaking lovingly with me, going out to a comedy club, learning to ski and surf, using up all my crafty materials and selling my wares to pay for trips, starting my own healing practice, finding a way for my children to keep their possessions tidy, painting the inside of my home, driving an art car, traveling with friends and their families, spending a couple nights alone, finding joy in preparing a nourishing meal, and putting on that backpack and traveling the world with my children.  My children dream of driving around the country, opening businesses to sell honey and fried eggs, selling their origami creations and original art works, sleeping in the same bed with me every night, riding their bikes as often as they desire, eating endless desserts, reading every waking hour of the day, and playing with their friends all the time.  We are all dreaming of our possibilities now.

Many of these may not happen.  Some will.  There is empowerment in getting to choose which alternate realities to bring forward into our reality.  My soul takes great pleasure in this daring to dream.  Dream big, and then dream bigger.  My alternate realities open me up to the possibilities that await.  I get to choose.  What a satisfying feeling that is.

Self-care as a Family Investment

It is entertaining to watch my own psychology and grief play out.  It has been 12 weeks since our M died.  We miss him terribly.  Each day is easier and harder than the day before.  Emotions have been heavy and dense in the last month: the recent political election and the resulting challenges, trying to complete and sell the dream home we designed, tackling paperwork to close accounts, the cancellation of eight school days cancelled due to snow and ice, managing our higher emotions, and the other zillion details to keep this family and home up and running.  My usual morning meditation practice has come in handy, but does not get me as far nor as joyfully into each day.

My parents visited last weekend.  I admitted my exhaustion and sadness.  My dad says I just need to step back from over-parenting my children, locking the door to take a bath whenever I want while the big kids watch our toddler.  I told him my children have short attention spans, are easily distracted, can't seem to close the bathroom doors or close toilet lids... ever, and cannot keep our wee one safe.  In my experience, this is completely typical for children this age.  That is why nine year olds are generally mother's helpers and not babysitters. 

I am also putting pressure on myself not to squander the money M and his parents worked so hard to bring into our family, through their years of sweat and sacrifice.  In a heated conversation with my parents, I admitted this money is also here because of my hard work.  I chose to leave my good paying job to raise these children, to support them as they grow.  This money is now mine to use to care for and raise my children.

My parents asked me what M would want me to do in this situation.  My answer was easy: Take care of myself.  That answer is so very obvious to an outsider.  To me, the insider trying to manage on a limited budget, it was not as clear.  I need to take care of myself so I am able to be here for my children in the ways I choose.  Self-care is an investment in my family.

So I've now hired our nanny two mornings a week, with which I will get aerobic exercise, grocery shop, and tackle other errands that must be done.  Our nanny will help with laundry and dishes, read books with our wee one, and sit down with her to play.  What a gift.  A simple-yet-huge gift.

My children and I met our new grief counselor last night.  It doesn't feel like a match yet, but we will give it a couple more visits before fully committing.  We are starting to eat out more, as I was getting tired of our frozen burritos at home.  A couple friends are offering to babysit once or twice a week in the next month.  These details all hold together the current plan of how to move forward together.  Eat out, hire help, exercise, step into counseling, stick together.  Times and emotions are dense, but now we have a plan to get through them together.  Exhale.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dougy Center Support Groups

We have the great privilege of attending free Dougy Center support groups designed for families with children who have experienced the loss of a parent or child.  My children enjoy play therapy with counselors twice a month while I attend a support group with surviving spouses and parents.  My family began with the Pathway Program before M died.  M even attended one meeting with other cancer patients.  Our family is now new to the bereavement program. 

My family has attended two sessions since M's death.  The first time I was even and matter-of-fact.  The second time I was uncomfortably giddy.  Laughter was my coping mode that evening, as a way to break up the density of being in a room full of devastated survivors.

In these sessions we talk about what we are currently processing.  Each session seems to pull out the similarities in the ways we grieve.  In the bereavement group we talked about how it was so uncomfortable to live life in limbo, not knowing when things would slow down or progress.  In the bereavement group, there is a level of quiet devastation.  We all wish we had our loved one back with us, find uncomfortable comfort in doing things we couldn't do with our partner, want to take trips or change our home in ways our partner would not have chosen, worry about our children in all their phases of grief, take comfort in friendships and family, our lives are full and distract us much of the time from our loss, and feel great waves (of grief, anger, sadness, devastation, along with delight) crash over us without warning.  We want to travel and see the world while also staying home and stable for our children.  We together wonder when is the right time to open up to romance again after our loss: 15 months or 5 years?  We find ourselves crying for reasons invisible to others.  We find the quiet moments alone to be the hardest.  We find ourselves explaining to others that grief is not something you get over, but something you learn to live with. 

I treasure being in our sacred circle where we get to talk about how awful it is have watched our loved one die, for us to lose a partner or child, for us to parent alone, and to talk of the ways we support our children and take care of ourselves.  I am so very grateful for this free group therapy, funded generously by donations.  I am thankful for this program touching and supporting so many families.  I am grateful for feeling so supported by these new peers and mentors in our lives.  We are stronger with Dougy.

The Optimist's Guide to Divorce

I love my library, even when late fees get steep.  Fees are part of the deal for my family at the library, especially now that I am the only adult responsible for getting things back on time.  In the two months since M died, I have damaged one book and lost two others.  Our books may be falling apart, but we humans are generally keeping ourselves together. 

In our library's new book section, I found a simple drawing of a woman riding a bicycle in the wind.  It reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun, a book and movie and adventure I love.  This carefree bicyclist was gliding across The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to get through your breakup and create a new life you love.  Six months ago, I would not have considered this title.  I have just gone through a death instead of a divorce, but if you skip a bit here and there, this book completely applies to my situation.  I am trying to get through my broken heartedness to create the new life I love... with my healthy, whole children.  I get a little thrill reading about recovering from divorce... as if to pretend it is what I've just been through, as if there is a small chance our M could walk back into our lives and kiss his children.  Divorce is preferable in some ways to the path our family has traversed.

Reading this book each day for the last two weeks while I wrestle my exhausted-yet-sleepless toddler, I have enjoyed the camaraderie of listening in on other women's stories of how they dealt with heartbreak, how they processed, connected with others, planned, and made the most of loving their new lives.  These women found themselves to be stronger in a myriad of ways than they had previously known.  My children and I are bringing some of their ideas into our own lives.  We have created a meal plan (Soup Sundays and Taco Tuesdays!), a budget, and my children are now responsible for all their own breakfasts and lunches.  (Why do you think Cheetos count as lunch?!)  I make larger dinners that double as leftovers.  My daughter makes toast and fried eggs for our family each morning and then tackles some dishes and laundry. 

There are stories detailing how to accept what has happened, seek therapy, create a home you love, bring in extra income, budget for what is most important, and so much more.   

I am currently right in the middle of the book at Twenty Things that Will Make You Feel Good.  This list reminds me of how I used to care for myself and how I will again.
  1. Take a bath with Epsom salts.
  2. Get your hands in playdough.
  3. Do a good deed for someone else.
  4. Sit on a chair and watch the stars.
  5. Plant something.
  6. Read a fun novel.
  7. Ride your bike in a park:
  8. Take a brewery or winery tour with an upbeat friend.
  9. Cuddle up with dryer-warmed towels.
  10. Visit a fair or theme park and ride the rides.
  11. Focus on gratitude.
  12. Sign up for lessons.
  13. Declare a fashion goal, such as Wild Print Wednesday or avoiding black.
  14. Roll car windows down and put out your hand.
  15. Schedule a massage.
  16. Write a love letter to an old friend.
  17. Wiggle toes in the sand.
  18. Hang chimes outside your door.
  19. Paint.
  20. Create something and get lost in the project.
Our family has been through something awful.  While we would give almost anything to go back to the lives we shared before diagnosis day, there are many silver linings to find on this leg of our journey.  At least that is what I tell myself to get through the density of the situation.  For every positive aspect we find now because of M's death, there are a trillion negatives.  I intend to feel okay about where we are and how we got here, so I focus upon our silver linings.  Here are some.

My children are learning to work hard and take pride in the work they do for our family.  We are expressing our emotions through more yelling and crying, and holding each other as we talk through it all.  Regular game nights and book clubs with friends and family are awesome.  Decluttering without as much negotiation is nice.  I purchase and dole out fewer sugary foods.  We spend less on hot water, heat, and groceries.  I am planning for new light fixtures, wall colors, and simple (summer yard sale) décor.  We don't need to move into a bigger "dream home".  I get to sort through and pass on my parents-in-law's possessions.  We can see our family together again in family videos.  I am finally reading adult books again.  Good books.  I get to smile when sharing this title with a friend.  I get to make the time to talk about it all here with you.  Silver linings.  For these I am thankful.

Sharing the Process

Dearest Sister-in-law KR,

I hadn't heard from you, so sent a thank you card and deposited money yesterday.  I am glad that is also what you said is okay.  It is comforting to know you have Paula as your mother-in-law.  I've been going through things in my attempts to find other things (unsuccessfully searching for house plans for radon surveys and treatment in our home) and found your mom's driver's license and Taiwanese health insurance cards, M's medical file on your mom's health, etc.  I am handing many of these over to (brother-in-law) KE, as I am sure he will treasure them more than my children for now.  I also found your dad's favorite baseball cap.  There are so many files and spaces that one collects and fills through their lives.  Baseball cards.  So much.  So I am moving on things like the big vases, the entry way cabinet and its decorations, the water cooler, things I am not attached to.  I am not moving M's clothing or basic possessions.  I'm not ready.  It feels comforting to have them around, and we don't need the space yet.  I imagine my children wanting to touch and wear M's clothing sometime.

As a matter of survival, I have been very productive, moving forward on big projects, making 25 phone calls about our home projects on Tuesday when the kids went back to school.  I have a long list of things that need to be done.  I am trying to get to the most important ones each day: bills, grocery shopping, new home construction details.  It will all happen eventually.

Right now Charlotte is having her third morning of nap off my body.  I am so very excited!  This is when I pile and box up all the things the big kids have not put away while they play in the backyard. 

Our friend will borrow (your daughter) Y's clothing.  I need a new organizational system for all the clothes.  The closet is not longer able to hold everything.  We are so very grateful for having these clothes from Y.  We have hardly purchased anything for our children and have saved so much money this way.

I am thinking of doing a babysitting swap with a friend so I can get coverage when I have evening/weekend things I need to do alone.  Then I won't need to pay a babysitter quite so much.  I am currently hiring my friend to babysit one or two nights a week when she's available.  A friend I hadn't seen in a couple years with a son Charlotte's age will watch her once a week for a few weeks.  A neighbor is offering to share her nanny time a few hours a week for a while.  So in those times I plan to run errands, catch up on communications, meet the inspectors and installers, call banks, etc.  It's an endless list.  It feels really good to have time without holding my sweet needy babe to get things done.  So very good.

Thank you for sharing with me your processing.  I process my grief here and there and everywhere.  I wake up and go say hello to M in the prayer room.  I open up the door and curtain each day.  I talk with him, imagine what he would say about things, try to imagine him here standing in the kitchen with me, hold his presence here with me as much as I can, fantasize about watching our wedding video sometime soon.  Our family talks about him a lot.  Liam's wish for the new year is "Papa come back alive."  M is ever-present here with us in our processing.  I say goodnight to him every night.  I laughed through much of our support group meeting, shaking off the density of such devastating loss, collectively unimaginable, so many tears.  I think part of my goal with the groups is to help myself and others process and to shake off some density, to accept our new normal as painful yet possible.

I treasure having you in our lives.  I thought of you when opening a bank account yesterday.  I am so very grateful for you and how much you show your love to us all.  I know you are in great pain right now, as are we all, and it shifts and flows and moves.  We will always feel this great loss and for the rest of our lives we may burst into tears about the mixed tape of memories coming through our hearts.  My mixed tape plays all day long.


The Rest of Us

Six and a half years ago, I somehow found the book The Rest of Us by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  Jacquelyn writes fiction of which I am not yet a fan, yet I connected deeply with her book of autobiographical essays.  When I opened this book, my husband had just learned of a large tumor in his chest, a few months before our second child was born.  Jacquelyn came to mothering through adopting and birthing, supported her husband as he died of cancer, and then adopted more children.  Within her writing, I see her as a strong, protective, determined, down-to-earth Midwestern mother who acknowledges her imperfections (and ours) with both lightness and gravity that accompany parenting.  She loves her children and does what she can to guide and protect them, as we all do.  She talks of how some women have it all together, arrive on time for their appointments, have perfectly mannered and tended children, and then there are The Rest of Us.  I loved this book many years ago.  I remembered the stories as if they were my own.  Now I get to connect with the stories in a while new way, as my own young husband has died of cancer and left me a widow.  I am so thankful for literature that connects me to myself, to help me feel supported and validated and light when much in my life feels otherwise.  I am grateful to know my children and I will get through this dense time with grace and love.  I am grateful for this love of books and this love of life.

Trusting the process

I have been meaning to write little snapshots of how I am coping with grief 10 weeks after my beloved partner's death.  Writing about my experiences is a way to focus in upon and release my processing.  Yet I find myself falling asleep with my children each evening, wrestling with the wee one all night, and waking to their morning sounds.  My brother-in-law suggests I get my work done after the kids go to bed....  There is no time in the day I am alone.  With children talking and asking for my responses (and food and clothing and attention), I haven't processed my grief in the ways I would with one hour alone each day.  I am so grateful for connecting with friends by telephone and email when I am so lonely for adult conversation.  We have had eight days cancelled due to snow and ice, meaning my two older children have been away from me only five of the last 33 days.  They will be with me for at least three more.  This explains why I feel unproductive and restless.  I know I am not alone in these feelings over the long winter days.

I am processing a lot in my grief.  So are my children and our extended family.  At one point near the bottom of my endless task list is to find professional grief counseling for my family.  There is so much to do before I even get down to that.  I have had so little time alone that I hid in the closet today to send emails.  (This would have been a radical statement for me before I had children.  Now it is what I do to be alone.)  My oldest then led the youngest in to bang on my door.  I am so grateful for getting to tackle small tasks while standing near my children.  When I sit, my three children descend immediately upon my lap.  I make time to sit and cuddle and connect.  I focus upon being present and available for them when they need me.  Everything in balance.  I have stood to sort my mother-in-law's seven boxes of photos, put away holiday décor, clear counters and doors, organize cupboards, and keep up with laundry and dishes.  I am now standing in the bathroom to type as my children make requests.  We do what has to be done.

As with so many other phases and imbalances in my life, when I start to hear myself complain, I remind myself to move into gratitude and trust.  I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about how things are going for our family.  I trust I will one day drink enough water, get routine exercise, eat a salad because I want to.  I trust I will get to the zillion tasks on my list.  I trust I will dust baseboards, wax the floor, and regrout counters.  I trust I will paint the deck areas I sanded when my wee one napped one day five months ago.  I trust I will be able to find loving homes for our unloved goods.  I trust the bills will get paid and the "dream home" completed and sold.  I trust we will love each other as much as we can manage.  I trust the icy snow will melt, these babes get on the school bus, and I will again believe in the possibility of homeschooling these children as they request.  I trust I will at some point be awake while my children are asleep, that I will make time to tackle my tasks, that I will get to that salad because I want to.  I trust these waves of grief will wash over and flow through.  I trust it will all work out.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Morning Meditation

A dear friend asked me today how I maintain my positive attitude while I am still fresh with grief.  Many people have asked me this.  My main idea on this is an intentional and constant state of appreciation.  When life serves lemons, I look at the moments of sweet lemonade.  They are everywhere to find: the smile of a child, a baby's morning hair, the humor of how slowly my son puts on his socks (and shirt and pants...) in the morning.  This constant intentional search for the silver lining has brought me great delight.  Yes, sometimes I lay on the floor and cry, sometimes I hide in the closet, sometimes I sob loudly when alone in the car with the music up very high.  I feel the lows.  Trust that we all experience lower moments and grief in our own ways.  In each of these lower moments, I trust it will pass and make way for learning and creating and rest.  It is the highs that I choose to focus upon.  The highs of life, how blessed we are to get to be humans at this time in our human history, are what I intend to hold. 

Along with intentional appreciation, I notice my days are extraordinary when I start the day with 20 minutes of my own personal meditation for 20 minutes.  I've put together this meditation with the help of two years of ascension classes with profound teachers.  I have used almost the exact same words in my meditation for several years.  Within this meditation, I call into action angels and helpers that I understand to already be a part of my body and soul.  I do it within my mind and heart as I lay with my sleeping children.  I have now set two alarms: one to wake me to start the meditation and one to signal time for us all to get out of our beds and begin another day.  I wrote a little about this meditation three years ago, and here I am detailing each word I use within my meditation.  Again, my intention of sharing this personal practice is to inspire some creativity within your own life.  I have no expectation for if and how you meditate.  May you know how blessed and held you truly are.

My morning meditation:
Oh, God, I love my life!  My name is Jenn Smith Layton Beagley Jensdatter Bensdatter Haworth Simer Raybold Allen Warr Wayman (add as many as ancestral surnames as desired) Merfee-t.  I appreciate my mother's mother's ancestors all the way back to the beginning and all the way back to the stars."  Repeat for mother's father's ancestors, father's mother's ancestor, and father's father's ancestors.  

"My intention is to stand firmly grounded upon the new ascended earth, to be in harmony with the planetary shifts, to rise in vibrational frequency with my physical form to 5D (ascended state).  

Please fully merge with me now (original) True Self."  Feel merge after each one.  "Please full merge with me Body Protector... Angel of Neutrality (non-judgement)... and Gate Keeper (allow contact only with vibrations as high as self or greater).  

These energies I'm creating here (envision them), pulling up from the earth and sending out into the universe... These energies I'm pulling down from the universe (envision and feel), down from the solar flares (envision and feel them), and the star nations (beam of light from long-ago ancestors, envision and feel them),... May these energies flow through me all of this waking day for the healing of self and mother earth for the most benevolent outcome.  May they flow fully through me with every breath, every beat of my heart, every blink of my eyes.  May these energies fully energize my Ka (energy body, envision and feel), bring incredible physical health (envision and feel), incredible mental clarity (envision and feel), and incredible emotional stability (envision and feel)."  I feel the light within and move through my day with this image and feeling.

"Oh, God, I love my life."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Uniquely Fine Balance

It seems like much of my life is rebalancing.  There are so many details on each end of the spectrum that require attention.  Like a teeter totter requiring constant readjustment.  My list of business tasks (finances, new home completion, home inspection, errands, phone plans, et cetera for infinity) feels so heavy that I am out of bed at 3:33am trying to capture them all on a list. 

Today is our last day of winter vacation together, a great treasure.  I am choosing to try to accomplish all I can in the dark hours of the morning so I get to focus more on playing with my children.  Playing board games, piecing together puzzles, trying out new stamp markers, painting, finishing that move we started last week, eating simple meals we prepare together joyfully, sitting down together for meals, exhaling. 

I can balance both ends, with a variety of adjustments.  In this day I am balancing responsibility and play.  We can run a couple quick errands (in pajamas) and get back to our home staycation.  My children can play while I am on the phone for a couple hours.  And then I can challenge them to twelve games of Blink or Bananagrams or Sorry.  Life is lived while we are making plans, in the moment, together.  I am thankful for the privilege of stretching in these ways and finding today's uniquely fine balance.

Safe to Disagree

I talk a good game.  I talk about how my children and I stick together, explore and learn and grow together.  There is a lot of love in our family.  We also make space for disagreements and yelling and tears and hurts.  And then we move toward each other again to heal the wounds.  We have plenty of wounds here as we grieve our largest loss.  (I could write for years about the many ways I miss my partner, the daddy of my young babies, and perhaps I will share these details for years.)

My children know they are safe to disagree and argue with me.  My older daughter is sensitive and introspective while my son is clearly an open book of emotions.  As I asked him for the fifth time to please do one of his chores a few days ago, he said, "I need to talk with Papa."  Well, goodness, I cannot argue with that.  So he sat in front of his dad's photograph in our prayer room for a very long time.  Our son placed his daddy's ashes in front of the photograph.  And then he began to sing.  A good long time later I found him playing board games on the floor near the photograph and urn.  He needed his daddy time when I thought it was so important for him to accomplish a weekly list of tasks. 

In so many ways my children refocus me on what is more important than a clean floor and brushed teeth.  Whole hearts and connections are more valuable.  The floors and teeth always need cleaning. 

I am so grateful to know we are just right in our imperfections, in the mistakes that teach us how to live better with one another.  I am thankful for learning lessons along the way and holding each other close as we do.  I am so very grateful for the privilege and responsibility of getting to guide and protect these beautiful souls.