Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restoring Life to the Man Cave: My Little Boy's Room

Well, Elijah's bedding set and wall decor arrived in the mail. Shortly after the personalized clocks I ordered for the children came. In the meantime I hit Wal-Mart for some frames and stuff for the family room. I did two walls with just pictures of the four children.

I have half of the wall over the television done. I have one group of pictures from the last session Thomas, Ariana and I did when I was pregnant with Elijah (before I knew it) with some decorative art. I hope to have a session with the children this week. I talked to a lady at Wal-Mart's portrait studio a little while ago.

I bought everything I need for Thomas' memorial wall. I'm going to laminate his awards, frame his postumus Post Office service award and the Memorial certificate from Washington and put up some pictures.

The big thing though is, I painted Elijah's room. We're still getting used to calling it Elijah's room. Every time he goes in there I tell him it is his room. I painted it from ceiling to floor in a light blue. Home Depot has a Disney Collection and it was officially called Bibbidi Boppity Boo Blue. Really I can't make that up. That was a real process. I had never painted a room before, but once I had everything I needed, I felt pretty confident about it. I got several rollers in different sizes and lengths and a lot of the pads that hold the paint. I got several brushes and trays, two packs of those disks used to move furniture and four drop cloths for the carpet.

It took about 9 hours with several breaks to eat and comfort Elijah. I finished at about 10 that night. Ariana, bless her heart, thought I should have had some help, but I had my reasons for doing it alone. She did help with some of the painting, but mostly she looked out for Elijah. She also was on microwave duty when it was time to eat. I asked her to warm a slice of pizza for Elijah and she got us all pizza and on separate plates. That was really cool.

I left the room closed with the window open and the ceiling fan on to get the smell out. I read that it takes a couple of days. I gave it four. Then I put up his wall art, stickers and decals. Cars, trucks, boats, airplanes. He loves toy vehicles and he's always moving so the theme for his room is Travel Time. His walls are done and I feel good about them. More than that, he likes them. He came in and was captivated. He looked around pointing and smiling. I picked him up and he stared at the walls in awe. Now I just need his crib and an area rug. I think he's going to enjoy his room.

It looks so so much different. But it's a good different. When I go in there now, I

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Man Cave Becomes the Boy Cave, part 2-The Man Cave is Empty

It took me over a year to get to the point of being ready to do it. For 14 months I walked in and out of the man cave, going in when I had to and forming a vision of what I really wanted that room to be.

In 30 minutes two men in a truck had it cleared. A love seat, the TV stand, night stand, two desks and yes, the recliner.

I also had my vanity set, old nightstand, the trundle bed under Ariana's bed, a chest of drawers that was broken, a broken coffee table and an old tube TV removed.

They did really well. I didn't even notice them have any trouble removing the love seat and recliner and I remember the drama that ensued when those pieces were put into that room.

It was quick and painless. They charged me according to how much room in the truck my stuff required. The pieces were just under a 3 quarter load...$310. Not bad to get rid of all that in 30 minutes and they'll recycle the items that are not suitable for donation, not just dump them somewhere.

Then I was left to clean up...a process that was the total opposite of quick and painless. I began the decluttering process prior to their arrival and it continued after they left. Vacuum, fill a trash bag, vacuum, fill a trash bag, vacuum, fill a trash bag.

I removed everything I could from the walls of the room and cleaned underneath both mine and Ariana's beds.

I eventually broke down and cried for about 30 minutes. I was beyond tired. The children had long been bathed and put to bed. I took a shower and passed out.

Next the fun part. It was time to go shopping for paint and painting supplies.

The Man Cave Becomes the Boy Cave-Part 1. Clearing My Husband's Room

Okay, so one of the things I said I'd do when Uncle Sam paid up was make some changes in my house. There'll be at least one change to almost every room: kitchen, family room, and all 3 bedrooms. Some of it is to replace old and nearly broken furniture like my kitchen dinette with the loose legs. Other things are to put my personality on the house.

Main thing? My son would finally get a nursery/bedroom. My husband was using the 3rd bedroom as a TV room and as time went on and his night-time choking fits and nebulizer use left me sleep deprived, it was also a place to sleep. We hoped to find a solution and bring him back into the master after the baby was born, but he died.

Several things including that room have stayed how he left them last year. I only recently moved his keys from the spot on the counter he last dropped them to the area in front of where his burial flag is displayed.

I scheduled an appointment with a furniture removal company. They'd come and remove several items including everything from that room except the chest of drawers, which will remain for me to build my son's room around and the 42 inch flat screen, which will be moved down to our family room to replace the huge, heavy 27in tube television that is also schedule for removal.

I wondered how I would feel. My husband spent most of his time at home in that room. He died in there as well. I found him nestled in his recliner when I came home from work. He appeared to have sat down for a nap and just stayed asleep. I particularly wondered how I would feel when they took that recliner out. I told myself it couldn't be anything close to watching the medical examiner staff take him out, but there was still an uneasiness about the whole thing.

I can admit though, I'm looking forward to the room having new purpose. It was always a place of illness then death. After the furniture is removed and some friends come and take the rest of dh's clothes, I'm going to paint the walls baby blue, add a wall paper border, order my son's crib and some other things I need to do his room in a "Cars and Trucks" theme because he loves them. I've been trying to keep a vision of my son playing and hopefully sleeping in the finished product.

Similar changes planned for my daughter's room. On the list for the company is her heavy broken part of her bed and one of her 2 chest of drawers, which is also broken. Planned on yellow wall paper, but she wants pink walls, so top half of walls will be painted a faint pink, a border a little over half way down with that same light pink and dark pink flowers, then bottom with dark pink wall paper. The bottom half of her walls already had paper and removing it tells me they will look better if I put more paper on her walls. But unlike her former paper, this paper will be peelable and washable. Part of me hopes that once I paint, her walls will look good enough and won't need paper.

These and all other changes planned are all needed to make the house safer, more energy efficient and just to make my personality the dominant one in the place including my own bedroom.

Each person's room will hopefully reflect their personality. My daughter: Pink, happy flowers. My son: Movement and Me: serenity. My husband often called the house his sanctuary. Now, I want the house to be our sanctuary and I want each bedroom to be the owner's sanctuary. Can't do that though without removing a lot of things from the house that reflect Thomas.

But he will get a wall. I'm redoing the wall where he displayed his awards from the military, church, the Post Office and the local prison where he volunteered. I'm getting some lamination paper to enclose them and will add the one the postmaster sent after his death with some pictures.

My goal is to have the project complete by the end of the summer. I'm ready for it to be over.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Making the Transition from Caregiver to Widow. Wear Comfortable Shoes. It's a Long Walk

I remember those first few days after Thomas died. As soon as the funeral home got him from the medical examiner I went to see him. They'd done the embalming and they let me see him after asking if I was sure.

He was covered from the neck down laying on a table. I stood there staring at him trying to let what had happened sink in. I went back several times for various meetings with the funeral home staff. It was a long walk down the hallway carrying a baby carrier, but it still seemed like I was watching this play out from somewhere else.

Finally the day before his funeral after he was dressed and put in his casket I went for a private viewing. I sat on a bench outside the viewing room and watched the video they made with the photos I'd given them first with tears streaming down my face still trying to let it sink in. Holy crap this had really happened to us. Then the guy opened the door to the room he was in.

I got up, put my hands on the stroller (my son was with me), gave it a push and went inside. I remember how heavy my feet felt. I took it slow, noticing they'd used the right casket, that the burial flag had arrived and was draped over the end. The guy turned on the lamp on the casket lid and left the room.

I hesitated to look down at him. I checked the bible verse I'd paid to have inscribed on the cloth inside the casket lid. It was fine. II Timothy 4:7. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith. I have finished my course. I allowed myself to look down. There he was…my husband-what was left of him, dressed in his favorite suit. His beard had been groomed like I asked, his hairline shaped…it was all done. I thought to myself…my God, it's really over…all his struggling...all his pain…all his suffering. Then I thought…my God, he's really gone. His smile, his laugh, his way of telling a story, the little sayings he used everyday…my husband, my children's father…he's gone. I have to bury him tomorrow.

Then Elijah began to cry. I picked him up. He was so tiny. He was just 2 months old. He'd just gotten here and his father was gone. How in the world did this happen? Elijah stared at his dad for an amazingly long time. I'd never seen a baby that small stare at anyone or anything for that long when the person or thing wasn't engaging them in some way. I held him there until he turned his head. It had to be well over a minute.

Thomas looked about as well as anyone can look in that state and that was a relief. How he looked when he was dressed up was very important to Thomas. Not sure if it had anything to do with how messed up his insides were, but looking good, especially wearing a Sunday suit was extremely important to him. And he was known for it. Several people when informed of his passing confirmed who they thought it was by asking, "You mean the guy who wears all those fancy suits?"

I looked at the door. I knew that in two hours they'd be opening that door to the public. His co-workers, fellow church members, people from the community where he delivered mail, people from the community where we lived, people from his past and his present, his mother, biological and adoptive father, his sister, brother, his older children and several other relatives would all be coming through that door. I'd be at the salon getting my hair done as people began to come in to see him. As I'd done several times during his life when he couldn't do it himself, I gathered myself and inspected him for detail.

I opened the door to find the guy who had let me into the room was still waiting. I asked for a few more adjustments to make sure everything Thomas did during his Sunday morning routine was done before that happened. Then I gave the stroller a push and walked away. Dang that hallway was getting longer and longer.

I returned that afternoon with both children. My daughter was walking this hallway for the first time and the walk seemed longer than ever holding her little hand and pushing the stroller. The room was full of friends, aquaintances and family members.

We funeralized and buried Thomas the next day without incident. That is unless you count the blow-out diaper my son had just as my pastor began the eulogy. That was it for him and his first suit. I'd painstakenly purchased our clothes the day before. Apparently we were lovely color-coordinated in pink, gray and white. I'm told we were the perfect picture of a grieving family resting on faith. I'm told I looked heart broken but was the picture of strength and hope.

Was this the look I was going for? Hardly. I just found a lovely pink dress for my daughter and saw the suit my son would wear a few feet away. It was mostly gray, but the pink shirt was the exact same shade as my daughter's dress. When it came time to get my own outfit, I thought…why not. How I looked during the funeral was the result of who my husband had required me to be during his illness. Cry if you need to, but stay on your feet and get this done. It was another long walk into the church that day. Stoic as I may have seemed, I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world. I was wearing high heels for the first time in almost a year because I'd just given birth 2 months prior and to take precaution against falls, I don't wear heels during pregnancy. They were a bit tight. I was exhausted. I was nervous. I just didn't want to drop my son. I also could not bring myself to hand him to anyone else. I'd purchased a sling, but he hated it and all well and good as it was recalled the next day. His Godmother did keep him with her after she and a friend changed his clothes and my daughter had laid her head in my lap and stayed there the balance of the service.

The end was coming…the last. At the final viewing I walked up to him. I bent over him for the last time. I stared at him for the second to last time. I touched his face for the last time. I held his hand for the last time. I rubbed his hair for the last time. I nuzzled his face for the last time. I felt his beard for the last time. I stared at him again. I remembered all the other times I did those things…how his breathing would change…how it would calm if it was ragged. I remembered how he would respond by just moving one finger to touch me back or by telling me to go to bed if we were at home or by telling me to go home if he was in the hospital. None of that was happening no matter what I did. We weren't at home. We weren't at the hospital. We were at his funeral. He's gone. I straightened up, asked my daughter if she was okay to go and sit back down. When she said yes, I turned, and walked away. I watched the funeral home staff as they situated everything inside before they closed the lid. I let out a deep breath. I told myself again, "He's gone."

Leaving the church I got my son back and we followed them as they pushed my husband out to the waiting cars. We moved slowly on yet another long walk. How many times had I walked from the front to the back or from the back to the front of this church in the 13 years I'd been a member there? I didn't know. The last time I'd done the walk this slowly was my wedding day…wow.

That's what this journey has been. Both life as a caregiver and my life as a widow can easily be described as a series of long walks. My life as a caregiver was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of loving, fighting, praying, crying, parenting, laughing and learning. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of frightening nights, hopeful days, moments of anger and frustration with periods of understanding and peace. It was a walk of faith…unyielding faith, shaken faith, unyielding faith, wavering faith, unyielding faith, shattered faith, unyielding faith.

In preparing for marriage I thought I knew who I'd be. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of something much different than I expected. Thomas seemed to see me as someone much more independent than I wanted to be and he had no problem telling me that. Half the time, I didn't want to hear about that. I didn't want to be in charge. I wanted to be taken care of like the other wives. A large portion of those 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days, I wondered why. Why him, why me, why us. But who were we really. We certainly were not the only ones with these types of issues.

It felt that way sometimes though. I spent a lot of that time feeling alone, isolated, like I didn't fit in with the couples we knew, like we'd never have what our friends had. And hardly anything hurts like feeling alone in a crowd of people who love you. But Thomas pushed me. For most of those 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days he pushed me. He expected me to rise above it all. I got tired of rising above it all a few times. A few days I stayed under it, in a corner refusing to come out. He did too, but by the grace of God, most of the time one of us was able to pull the other one out and back into the game, sometimes with tenderness, others with verbal force.

Then he died. Care giving was over and I was widow. I was a widow with two little children, one of whom was still attached at the breast. If I got into that corner now, I was going to have to reach inside myself for God and pull myself out of it. I'd have to do it without even Thomas' prayers going up in the background.

Over the past 14 months, I've had ample opportunity to hit that corner. The ups, downs, surprises, exhaustion, and the of emotions that go with widowhood…the lonely parenting without even an ex I normally can't stand available to call when I need responsibility for 1900 square feet of living space and the grounds and appliances that keep things running. It's been 14 months of loving, fighting, praying, crying, parenting, laughing and learning. It has been 14 months of frightening nights, hopeful days, moments of anger and frustration with periods of understanding and peace. It has been a walk of faith…unyielding faith, shaken faith, unyielding faith, wavering faith, unyielding faith, shattered faith, unyielding faith.

Only now, the challenge is to love myself without him. The fight is with my own occassional thoughts of inability as a widow rather than my inability as a caregiver. The praying is about the unknown future rather than the strength to face the unchanging challenges of the present. I cry because of his empty chair rather than because he can't get out of it. I'm finding the adventure in parenting as opposed to wondering how I will find it and be a caregiver at the same time. I'm still laughing to keep from crying. I'm also still learning who I am and in the process, seeing that in order to do this, I really need to be who Thomas was trying to get me to be for a long time. He's become to me like that coach the athlete doesn't understand. The coach rides him or her relentlessly and almost coddles the others. The athlete is frustrated to the point of quitting until one day it becomes clear. The coach did that because he or she believed in the athlete more than anyone else. Thomas used to say I was the right wife for him because even when all hell was breaking loose, I could stay calm. With ever step I take on this walk I try to remember what he said. Cry if you need to, but stay on your feet and get this done.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We are Still a Family. We Won't Be the Same, but We'll Be Fine

While we were getting ready to go this morning my daughter was watching the family channel. Full House was on. It's amazing how the shows we watched are catching on to our children in syndication. For anyone who may not have heard of it as it was popular in a previous decade, Danny is a widowed father of 3 young girls DJ, Stephanie and Michelle. They live in California in a home they share with Danny's brother-in-law Jesse and Danny's college friend Joey. The three men are raising the girls together. When the show first aired, DJ appeared to be around 9 or 10 years-old, Stephanie was 5 and Michelle was 9 months old.

Anyway, it happened to be the episode a few years into the series where Michelle (now a kindergartner) tries to match Danny up with her teacher because she wants a new mommy. One of her little friends (TJ) tells her everyone should have a mommy and since she didn't, that her daddy needed a lady to fall in love with and marry. So Michelle (unknown to Danny and her teacher) set up a lunch date to get them together.

When her plan is revealed, Danny tells Michelle that there's no chance he and his teacher will fall in love and Michelle runs off to her room heartbroken. Danny assures her that she had a mother who loved her very much. Then he has the "there are all different kinds of families" talk with her and they work through it as these sitcoms often do. When it ends, Michelle is suggesting another lady for her father, but all is right in her world. We were late getting out of the house staying to see the end. I looked at Ariana and asked her if that looked familiar. She said "You and me," as we have on occasion had the "there are all different kinds of families," talk. She gave me a hug.

Then I looked at her brother. Elijah is the Michelle in our family. She was an infant and has no personal memories of her mother. Elijah was 2 months old when his father died. I noted that this issue was coming up as Michelle entered school and I remembered how I'm dreading that point in time when Elijah realizes something is amiss. I fear sometimes it will be like losing their dad all over again. I’m attempting to strengthen my faith in my own words. We are still a family. We won't be the same, and we'll always miss and remember daddy, but we'll be fine as long as we stick together here, work as a team and love each other.

I'm reminded of the name of a chapter in a book I'm trying to read, "Single Parenting that Works" by Kevin Lehman. He says, "You can't do it all, but you can do what is important." In the long run, that is what I want my children to see that I did. Children in two parent homes don't all get to do and have everything that they want and I know I cannot do the work of two people in every single area of our lives. And I can't change the fact that their father died. But I'm fortunate in that Thomas and I discussed at length the important things we wanted to do for any child(ren) we had. And even though he isn't here, I can follow the basic plan.

He left us surrounded by people who love us, loved him and are well aware of who he was and what path he'd want his children to follow. All four of his children can walk the path he laid out and not go wrong. That is a real blessing for them. Those of us still here to love them can give them the constant assurance that they are important and the constant assurance they are great despite what's happened and that they can be great in their future. My stepchildren's mother will no doubt stand with them as they go forward. And I'm still here too. I can stand beside Ariana and Elijah in their endeavors and adventures and while there is no doubt we'll feel Thomas' absence, when those important things happen, I can say, "These are the plans your daddy and I made for you. He is still our hearts and he would be so proud."