Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wondering About Anticipatory Grief

My husband dealt with multiple health problems for years and I thought I had what I've heard called anticipatory grief. It's a term used in situations where a person loses someone after a long illness or a known terminal condition. Thomas was not techinically terminal, but in a phone conversation I had been advised at one point what to expect. I did not tell Thomas until he had outlived the prognosis. He outlived the doctor's prediction by nearly three years. Still, I faced losing Thomas so many times, I sometimes rehearsed my reaction in my head. I rehearsed the conversation with my daughter. I tried not to think about it, but I did. The reality is not what I anticipated on the rare occasion I allowed myself to think about it.

When the day came, God allowed me to go through the process with a calm that amazed everyone there and everyone that heard about it. He kept me on my feet, kept any screams silent, walked with me through the entire thing. I tossed a large blanket over my shoulder underneath which I nursed my son while an officer interviewed me about what had gone on that day. I kept my wits about me enough to plan what I've been told was a very good funeral despite never even having been remotely involved in planning one before that. Thomas always said I was right for him because all hell could be breaking loose and I'd remain calm. I would actually do my crying in seclusion. I'd been crying for years. When he died I wondered if I'd have any tears left or just be mad. I remember thinking this is the worst thing to ever happen, but I have to be okay.

I've had plenty of grief in the past 15 months and from more sources than just Thomas' death. But when it came to his actual departure, I have come to believe that for me, when I thought I was grieving ahead of time, I was really grieving the current losses. We lost the privilege of physical intimacy. We lost the privilege of sharing our bed. We lost the privilege of spontaneity. We were married for ten years, but lost most of what we enjoyed about our marriage about half way through it. I cried, I got angry, made bad decisions, got scared, tried to figure out how to live over and over again.

And since he actually died, I've done those things again. I've cried, I've gotten angry, I've made bad decisions, gotten scared and I'm still trying to figure out how to live. When I actually lost him, when he was really gone, when he didn't bounce back at the last minute like he'd done so many times, I started a life that was a lot different than I anticipated.

Part of the complication for me is in the birth of my son. From the time I got pregnant with him, I forced myself to believe my husband would just keep on going. I'd reached a point of accepting those other losses and we had reached a point as a couple where we relied on our friendship and worked together to be the best parents we could. After Elijah was born, even though my husband's condition had not improved, I somehow had hope. We got a minivan two weeks after Elijah was born and five weeks after that purchase I went back to work. One week after that, two months from the day I had our son, I came home and Thomas was dead. A couple of days later, I remember thinking, "We have this baby and you do this now? Really?" Elijah though was an unexpected blessing. He wasn't a child we planned like his sister, but like her, we loved him. He had our hearts from the start.

Ariana was almost 7 years-old and we'd gotten into a pretty good routine before I got pregnant. I had somewhat prepared myself to do this with two children with minimal help from Thomas. He was doing more of what he could to help with our daughter during my pregnancy and in those first eight weeks our son was here, but he really didn't have much energy after working and I accepted that. He also held our son quite a bit and that is significant because in those early weeks he hardly held our daughter at all. He claimed she was too small and delicate. I wondered why the difference, but didn't think too much about it. Thomas now had a very strict lifting limit. It was so strict that Elijah would reach that weight at 3 months old, just one month after Thomas' death, so when this was happening, I figured he wanted to hold him while he could.

Elijah has lessened the blow of this tragedy in a lot of ways. Both of my children have, but in truth, I looked at him and Ariana and realized I had no idea how I was going to do this with their father actually gone. He'd had too many close calls to count, but the finality of it all is the difference. When he was here I had occasion to get a glimpse of the man I married and now that's gone. When I hated sleeping alone, not being held at night and when I hated being celibate, I tried to be grateful he was just here to talk to. Now he's not here for that. I could not anticipate what that would be like because he talked a lot. That was all we could do really so we did a lot of it. When I need to make a decision outside of the areas we talked about, he's not here to ask what to do. There is way less room for error with children in your arms and no spouse at your side or an ex across town, across the state or wherever.

And I had a dream that might have warned me. I dreamt once that I was widowed and living alone with my daughter and an infant son. I woke up and figured that must have been someone else. Why? The people in the dream looked like us, talked like us, had our names. Why? I had not yet gotten pregnant and did not anticipate getting pregnant. Elijah was conceived on a trip we took in April of 2009 and we had not had any kind of baby making activity in over a year at that point. I dismissed the dream and didn't mention it to anyone, not even Thomas. I was standing downstairs with some friends waiting for him to be removed from the house when I remembered it. I looked at my son and thought, "Holy Crap!"

I wonder now what anticipatory grief really is. It certainly isn't what I thought it to be. Despite years of illness, multiple hospitalizations, several surgeries, sleepless nights and a lot of suffering he and I both wished would end at times, Thomas' actual death turned my world upside down. And it should have. He was my husband, a faithful man of God, father of four and among so many other things he was to several people, he was the only man I had ever loved. God is turning my world right side up though and when I rely on Him like I should, I enjoy my life. It's not always easy. I was a wedding day virgin and part of my motivation was to avoid having to raise a child or children by myself. But God has blessed us anyway and my children and I have a good life. And I anticipate that it will get better.

It saddens me Thomas is not a part of it like I hoped he'd be. But I knew him. He'd still want me to believe in my future. He'd still want me to believe in purpose. He'd want me to focus my attention there. He would still want me to dream. He talked more about my writing dreams than I did. When all I could think about was trying to keep him alive, he was confessing a six figure writing income for me. I'll always miss him, but something on the inside stirs me to believe that there's greatness inside me still and there's greatness in my future. Believing my children are great has never been an issue. All of that has battled well with the sadness, loneliness and grief and it's nice that the grief has competition.

There's definitely been no shortage of life lessons here. I'm learning about myself, reinventing myself for this new road and rediscovering parts of me I had put away, who Sonya the woman is beyond Sonya the mother. Do I get tired? I get exhausted. I took the children to Great Wolf Lodge for a recent weekend to get a break. I'm out to discover the woman yes, but I still get my kicks just being mommy…splashing in the pool, playing video games, watching Disney Channel and making a fool of myself dancing to some teeny bopper song by a boy I had never heard of before that night. My daughter especially appreciates that I don't seem to mind making a fool of myself. It's an ability I believe every parent should have. They are worth it. I’m just finding out that I am too.

I am not sure whether there really is such a thing as anticipatory grief. Most widows I have had any kind of contact with say there really isn't a way to predict what this life will be like before you are in it. I do however have great anticipation of our future. I believe God has great things in store for us. I still believe Thomas' prayers will be answered. He prayed way more about the future than I did. Most of my prayers were really in the moment. He prayed my father would resurface and he did. And I had one more dream. Thomas came and talked to me and assured me I would be fine. I believe him. God tells me in His word that I will be fine. He tells me I have a bright future. I believe Him. I couldn't do this if I didn't.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Whose Bright Idea Was This Anyway?

I must be glutten for punishment. Setting up an estate folder earlier in the week and then pulling Thomas' clothes from the two closets.

It was time. I know it was. It's a necessary step on the way to Elijah's bedroom becoming a reality and us having the space we need in here to store what we keep.

But I thought I'd given away a significant amount and there is still sooooooo much. I put it all on the floor of Elijah's room to make it easier for the children's Godfather and whoever helps him. I think I've gone as far as I can.

I put all the clothes out flat on the floor in piles, still on the hangers. I made 2 stacked rows of shoes. His socks filled a 39 gallon lawn bag as did his hats.

And yet again I went back and forth, again and again to my garage which is not looking too good right now. I'm only requiring myself to make sure there's a good path through it because it is one of our fire exits. Sometimes it seems like stuff is multiplying.

I did get the kids' bathroom done. Ariana picked a set with frogs, which I can appreciate because it's not girly and she'll share that bathroom with her brother. Both kids' bedroom walls are painted and decorated and the princess is in her castle with new bedding, rearranged furniture and a new (what else) pink floor lamp.

I got lamps in the family room that match the furniture and I looked at table sets (coffee table and end tables) over the week. I got Thomas' memorial wall done and am almost done with the walls in the family room.

I'm emotionally drained right now. When I was in the closet, I came across some hand puppets Thomas had purchased. They were Sesame Street Characters, 2 Ernies and one Cookie Monster. I looked at the date on the receipt and remembered Ariana was heavily into Sesame Street at the time and Thomas had purchased them so they could play together. I think they played with them maybe once. Elijah came in and I put the Cookie Monster puppet on my hand and sang the "C is for Cookie" song. He laughed and it was about all I could take. I asked him whose idea it was for me to do this on Father's Day weekend. He stretched his eyes wide. They are the one, and I mean the only one, feature he inherited from me. But they fit so well on the rest of his face that he clearly inherited from his dad. He stretched them wide and looked at me. Then I remembered. It was mine.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Didn't We Have This Conversation?

It is hard or nearly impossible for children to grasp the permanency of death or the permanency of anything really. Ariana was 6 when Thomas died and for months she would ask, "Is he really never coming back?" I think somewhere in her, she feels that after enough time goes by, he'll just show up again.

She's 8 now and was for some reason talking about going away to college and my mother was telling her we'd visit her and she'd visit us and she asked if her dad would. Had to tell her no. We're a Christian family and she's learned the 91st Psalm, and knows about guardian angels, but in our case, it's best I not complicate it with the concepts of angels and visions and visitations. I know that wasn't what she meant. We've had that conversation too. She asked if he was watching over us. I told the truth. I don't know. "GASP!" She's still at an age where me saying those three words is a shock. I figure I'll know everything for another 2 or 3 years, then I'll know nothing. Ain't parenthood grand?

I try to read where I can on how to help her. There's a lot of different advice. You can spend a lifetime reading about this. I think all we can do is keep a constant communication with them and when they ask about the parent coming back, be honest as painful as it is, using words they might understand. I've read they will develop an understanding over time and grieve in cycles which is something I have observed in my daughter.

Originally I told my daughter that some times when people get hurt or sick the doctor can't fix them and some people live like that, others don't and their bodies stop working and all they can do (because we are people of faith) is go to be with Jesus. In our case it was the heart and lungs and my daughter is old enough to understand you can't keep going without those.

I've stuck to my story, but still I have had to repeat it several times. And I think she feels Thomas is doing what he did here where he is. I still get asked if he eats, drinks, needs his TV, etc. I think she understands he can't be here (on any given day) but thinks, okay, he's with Jesus, he should be able to do stuff he likes to do. After all, Jesus is so wonderful right? I'll let her have that. I won't mess with what she feels her father is doing where he is. How do I know anyway.

I've learned to be prepared for a lot of repetition, to get asked the same questions over and over perhaps with months in between. It's hard and I'm glad we have each other, and I'll admit some days I wish it would sink in for both our sakes, but then I still have days when I want to believe he's just going to come bouncing through the front door again myself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Even When It Looks Bad, You Just Have to Go Forward

On Saturday, June 11, 2011, my pastor's daughter got married. I'd been at the church for 14 years and had known her, now 28 for just about that long. Her parents married Thomas and me. He and I served on several committees together, had our children there and the children and I have remained there since his passing last year.

He would have been so tickled at this blessed event. At first I was not expecting to go. I have used very few sitters to the point that anyone my son could stay with was going to be at the ceremony. When one last attempt to find one fell through, I sadly on the last day to do so, sent my RSVP in as "No".

A week later, my mother called to say that the bride was a little disappointed I wouldn't be there. My mom explained why and they understood, but kind of hoped I'd still come. It was just the reception they were concerned about remaining adult only. Still, my son, though a sweet baby is a normal toddler. He'd sat through quite a few things, but if he was just having one of his talkative days, it could end up being a complete waste of time as far as me actually seeing the ceremony. I'd attended the graduation at my daughter's school and had to leave the room 4 times due to his chatter. But after an email exchange, the bride who has always been very kind hearted anyway, gave me her permission to bring him.

So I devised a plan. When we had gone to my niece's college graduation, I got there early and let him run around outside until he eventually sat down on the sidewalk. He then sat through the ceremony with minimal movement and just some jabbering. So I planned to leave the house early enough to get there at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony to allow him some run time before going into the hall.

What is they say about the best laid plans?

Elijah had a little stomach bug that kept him out of school on Friday even though he was over it, so I took advantage of my day off and got his haircut to save us time on Saturday. Then we went to the mall and I got myself a free hairdo by letting the woman selling flat irons give me a free demonstration. Didn't end up being free though. I was so impressed with the thing, I bought it.

The next morning went smoothly. We dressed and headed out for my daughter's tutoring session at Sylvan Learning Center. We are generally somewhat rushed going to this, but this time I had it together and we got there early enough that instead of parking and shooing Ariana out of the van, we actually got to go in and wait for the teacher to call the children back. I took it as a good sign as to how the day would go. While she was in class, Elijah and I went to a nearby Target and picked up a few things including a card for the newlyweds. Then we picked her up, made a quick stop at Wal-Mart for stockings for me and we were back home by a little after 11:00am.

Between then and 1:00pm, I got us cleaned up, did Ariana's hair, got us all dressed and got Elijah started on his nap. I went to to get directions to the location. I remembered the address and put it in and it was about (I thought) a 30 minute drive. Something in my head kept saying "double check the invitation" but I'd already put it in the van. You'd think I'd learned by now to listen to that small voice. It was probably Thomas.

It wasn't until I turned onto the street at 1:30 that I realized I had a big problem. The street was about as long as the one I live on (8 houses long) and the street numbers started at 8700 and I was looking for 205. Panic started to set in. I turned around hoping I'd just turned the wrong way, but the street did not continue on the other side of the intersection. What was I going to do? I looked at the invitation and realized I was on Fidelity Blvd and the invitation said New Fidelity Court. In mapquest I had just put in 205 Fidelity. I could literally feel my blood pressure going up. I had been forced to give up my lovely Blackberry for a much cheaper phone and could not get back on mapquest's website to figure out where to go. I stopped at a gas station not knowing how far away I really was and no one had even heard of the place I was looking for.

I called the person who had come to my rescue time and time again. I called the kids' Godmother and thank heavens she answered. But my heart sank when she was telling me where this place really was. We were at least 30 minutes away and it was now 1:40. It was then time to tell my little girl who was continually asking "Are we lost?" "Are we late?" the truth about what was happening.

Her first response? "I want to go home." I was inclined to agree with her. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. One thing I have noticed in this life (widowhood) is that a lot of mishaps are magnified and something like this feels like a disaster. I thought back to the pride I felt when we left the house. It is no small thing to get us dressed up and out of the house without something crazy happening even if it is just Elijah wanting to be held when I need to get dressed, but none of that had happened today. But this was far worse. But something said to move forward and I decided to give it a try.

It seemed like the longest drive ever. I was continuing to even as I drove try to figure out the best way to get to where I needed to go. I won't say I didn't waiver. I thought about giving up a couple more times. At 2:01, Ariana asked, "Is it two o'clock yet?" When I said yes, I told her I was sorry. She hadn't wanted to go because she still thinks kissing is yucky, but I'd convinced her she'd enjoy seeing the people in pretty clothes and that the pastors love us and want us to be there and that we had even been given special permission to bring her brother. She had actually gotten excited about it and I felt so bad for messing everything up. After I apologized, she burst into tears. I almost felt like she was getting it out for me. I asked her though why she was crying and she said, "I WANT TO GO!" Sometimes things that go wrong are magnified for her too.

But now I had new resolve. Somehow I was going to get us there and I actually began to ask God to delay the thing. Sad, but true. I prayed that as long as it was nothing serious and no one got hurt for something to delay the thing. Perhaps I thought, someone important would be late. My wedding hadn't started on time. Maybe this one wouldn't either. Once we finally got on a highway that would get us there, I started breathing a bit better, but still the clock would not lie. I remember looking at it at one point and it was 2:15. I shook my head. Ariana asked me if I was okay and I said, "To tell you the truth, I feel like crying." She said, "You go ahead and let it out." I chuckled a little instead. I looked at Elijah, totally oblivious to the craziness as usual and the picture of calm. Ariana had new resolve. She eventually exclaimed, "DO NOT STOP UNTIL WE GET TO THAT WEDDING!" I thought to myself…riiiiiggghhhtt. And I prayed I would not add insult to injury by getting pulled over. I'll admit I was driving as if someone was chasing me.

It's too late to make this long story short, but we eventually got there and I was almost done in by how close to our house this place actually was. It was 2:30. I parked the van, and started doing my usual, "hurry and get out of the van" pleading with Ariana. I scrambled to get everything and prepared myself to have to just leave my gift and wait outside in the hope of getting a glimpse of the Bride and Groom when they came out. As I hurried towards the entrance with Elijah on my hip and Ariana following as close behind us as she could, I was amazed at what I saw next.

The Bridal party, led by the groom was making its way from one door to another. As I got closer a guy, who by his features appeared to be the groom's brother, said to him, "It's time man," to which he answered, "I know." I couldn't believe it. It hadn't even started yet. We got inside and got seated and I looked at Ariana and said, "Can you believe it? We didn't miss any of it." She just smiled. Another couple who are also deacons came in right behind us saying they also had trouble finding it and had also prayed for some kind of delay. We laughed about it.

It was a beautiful ceremony. My pastor both gave his daughter away and married them. There was music, laughter, beautiful dresses, handsome suits and the hall was exquisite. The bride was breath taking and the ceremony was sweet. Ariana was a bit of a chatter box so full of whispering questions but she'd never seen a wedding other than the video of mine and her father's. My darling son hardly made a sound. He had some juice and after just laid on my lap for the rest of the ceremony.

I did have to go back to the van afterwards because in my haste I left the card in there, but we spent some time a the "pre-recepton" gathering before leaving. A real celebratory atmosphere and I felt priviledged to be there. Just a few people knew what I'd been through that day, but I did tell my mom I felt like giving up and crying and going home, but a voice kept telling me to go ahead. Ariana tugged on my sleeve and said, "That was me mom." She is such a crackup.

We went to a local Appleby's and had a leisurely meal before going home. I felt a need to just relax with them after that. When we got out of the van I noticed again how beautiful they both are and I snapped some pictures before we went inside and after we were seated.

I learned a lesson I have learned time and time again. It is best to keep going forward.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Adventures in Summer Camp

Some poor 8 year-old boy got his heart broken when he professed his love for my daughter. He gave her a note saying "You're beautiful. I love you" and put his phone number on it.

And she's been there less than a week.

She tossed the note and his heart in the trash. WOOT WOOT! THAT'S MY GIRL!…I mean, poor thing. He really had no idea who he was dealing with. She knows that is not what being 8 years old is about in our house.

I was tickled and amazed at her tone as she told the story. Her distinct "matter of fact" attitude mixed with a splash of "how dare he?" with a bit of "eeeewwwww" on the side. She knows about relationships, but feels they are between men and women, not boys and girls.

I wonder a few things. On the serious side, I wonder how long it will last and am continuing to pray she keeps the attitude that relationships are for men and women. On the lighter side, I wonder how many broken hearted boys she will leave in her wake. Apparently she didn't even wait until he wasn't looking to throw the note away.

I always say, "you got to love her". I guess it's true.