The Other Stages

sunsetstagesAt the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer and having many of you avoid reading this full post (but I hope you will hang in here with me), I’m going to state the obvious: Death, rather unfortunately, is an inevitable part of life. No matter how you slice it, it is going to happen. None of us will live forever.  But we all want to live as long as possible, and even more so, we want those we love to live for as long as possible right alongside us.

This past month, I’ve experienced a double-whammy of loss.  My oldest brother, after a long history of health issues, passed away. Nine days later, we were forced to help our beloved fur-son, our dog, cross the Rainbow Bridge.  We’ve all heard about, and likely experienced, the “official” stages of grief that envelope us after the death of a loved one. No matter the relationship, at least some of those stages are going to hit us – shock, pain, anger, depression… These losses in my life were not the first, and I’ve felt these pains before.  What was different this time is that for both, I was the main point of contact, or the main caregiver.   Post-life-first-responder, if you will.  And I now realize there are other stages to grief that many of us R.W.’s will at some point in our lives have to work through if we haven’t already. And we may not expect them.

  1. Immediate Decision Making.Whether we are present at the time of the passing or not, after we’ve had our moments of saying good bye, we must somehow pull ourselves together enough to make some decisions. Calling immediate family, reaching out to a Funeral Home, determining what is to happen with the body, calling out of work – all things that need to happen within minutes or hours of the event, while our heart is split into pieces.  This is the time to take that Wonder Woman cape out of the closet and put it on – except this time it is black, and we really don’t want to wear it.
  2. Zombie mode.  After the initial burst of activity, we reach a brief stage where there’s nothing really to do. We are attempting to get our head around what just happened, get a grip on our emotions and deal with total exhaustion because we have just entered Weird and Dark World. We become a zombie – not the kind that comes back from the dead, but the ones left behind because of the dead.  We put one foot in front of the other in a cloudy fog and keep plodding along.
  3. Second-guessing.  Also known as the Guilt stage of grief. No matter how logical we are, no matter how many times we’ve been told we “did all we could do”, the guilt and second-guessing seeps in.   We are women. It is natural to relive every moment of the last few weeks/days/minutes of a loved one’s life and worry about whether we could have done more, said more, comforted more, ya da ya da ya da. Only time and re-assurance will help that stuff fade.
  4. Kicking Into Action.  When that very brief lull of “what now” is over, we take on yet another second/third/fourth job – that of preparing for whatever appropriate ceremony is needed. No matter what our culture or beliefs dictate, there will be an event to help everyone say goodbye and formally send the loved one on their way. What I realized is this is actually kind of similar to planning a wedding or birthday celebration; except it isn’t for a happy reason, balloons are replaced with lilies, and it all has to be done in days or weeks instead of months. There’s the venue, the program, the invitations/notifications, décor, photos to find, budgets to handle, travel arrangements, etc. Much to be done in a short amount of time. And guess what, this all happens while we are attempting to carry on with some semblance of our regular life. Yeah, that black cape is still tied on.

And here’s where I interrupt my list for an important PSA: Please, we all need to promise that we will take time now, while we are healthy and aware, to leave instructions for the future. Yes, having a Will or Estate plan is vital. But I’m talking about the other, more personal stuff.  My brother kindly left instructions about what he wanted for his funeral, which made that part of my life much easier, and made me feel better that I was doing what he wanted. In the Netflix series The Kominsky Method, a celebrity wife leaves her very specific funeral wishes for her husband, including instructions to find a casket made out of driftwood and having Barbara Streisand sing at the Service. Our wishes will likely not be that extravagant. But got a favorite song to be played?  Want your ashes sprinkled in the ocean?  Got a piece of jewelry to go to a favorite niece?  Whatever it is, no matter how small, those who are left behind will appreciate the guidance, and it will avoid arguments and even more grief. Even if you think you are a grumpy, unlovable old sot, someone is going to care and is going to feel lost and zombie-like. Help them out.  Oh, and make sure someone in your life knows where all your passwords are listed.

Now, where was I…. oh, yes:

  1. Overwhelming gratitude. I know, this sounds weird.  But the love and support and assistance from everyone in our lives, and the lives of the one who has passed, can be mind-blowing and incredibly comforting.  Soak it in. And all of those people who are offering to help in some way really mean it.  We’ve all been in that place before, wanting to help but not knowing quite how.  Even if it is something small like running a quick errand, take advantage of those who want to do their part to help through the journey.  Then thank them profusely.
  2. Phantom limbs. It is said that individuals who have had an amputation experience phantom sensations in the missing limb, most of which are painful. Thankfully I’ve never experienced a physical amputation, but the death of a loved one seems to me to be pretty close. We expect to be able to visit them, expect the dog to greet us at the door, expect to get the loved one’s phone calls, and we automatically think of things to tell them or to do for them…especially if we have been a primary caregiver.  We may even “see” them as if our hearts and eyes are playing mind tricks on us.  I believe this is the most painful part of the whole process, and the one that lingers the longest.  We just plain miss them, and it hurts.
  3. Finding a new normal.There’s no good word for this. The “official” name is acceptance, but I’m not sure that is accurate. We never get “over” the loss. The mourning never ends.  As a matter of fact, it has a nasty way of sneaking up behind us when we least expect it, and wacks us in the back of the head. We don’t go back to normal, because our lives are forever changed – instead we have to adapt to a new normal.  Eventually, however, bit by bit, the zombie mode fades and the pain starts to ease. We start to laugh again, and we find joy in living, even without our loved one – because it is what they’d want us to do.

Best of all at some point all those memories start to bring smiles instead of tears. At that point, we know we’ve survived every stage.

 

Posted in celebrations, communication, death, family, friends, Health, life phases, love, preparation, real women, Relationships, Seasons, self care, skills, stress, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Equalizer

pup on phoneWe all know people in our lives who can talk comfortably to anyone about anything.  They are that rare type of human who has not a shy bone in their body, and is genuinely fascinated by what others have to say and share.  They are generally very fun, kind and gregarious folks.

Then there are the rest of us.  Some of us welcome meeting new people, some would rather not. Some like being in crowds and social occasions, others would rather be alone or speak only to one other person they know and trust. No matter where we each land on the spectrum of sociability, there are inevitably occasions where finding a common topic can be a challenge.  There’s that awkward silence as one tries to find something to say, to break the ice, to make some sort of connection.  Inevitably we turn to the blatantly obvious safe topics like the weather.  “Hot today. They say we may get storms later.” Yeeaahhhh, riveting stuff.  What’s worse is when that topic has been covered in 6 seconds, only to be followed by more awkwardness.

Over the past few years, I have discovered one topic that invariable gets people to open up, warm up, and make an immediate connection:  pets.  Let’s face it, we’ve all gotten crazily passionate about the animals in our lives. And the odds of this being a common topic are in our favor.  67% of U.S. households own pets.  50% of U.S. households have at least one dog, while 34% have at least one cat.  That equates to approximately 106 million households combined that have a dog and/or cat.  And we aren’t even talking about horses, rabbits, fish, lizards, you name it. For those who don’t own a pet, it is highly likely they have friends or family members with pets, or help care for/babysit pets.  Yes, ok, I know, there is a sliver of you folks out there who – gasp – hate animals of all kinds and would never welcome one into your household.   You will have to stick to those other conversation starters like the weather, children, the economy, or worse, politics.  May the force be with you.

Years ago, I worked with a gentleman on our Sales Team who went to call on one of our more challenging customers.  Our contact there was a woman who was notoriously serious, even cranky, who did not welcome interruptions to her day.  During the course of his sales call, he happened to find out she owned a certain breed of dog, and was able to share a photo of a similar breed he had in his life.  Instantly her tone changed, she opened up and they had a great conversation and started a whole new positive business relationship.  After that meeting, he and I half-joked that the best tool a Sales person could have would be photos of every type and breed of pet on his or her phone.  “oh, you have a Bassett hound?? So do I!  Let me show you his picture!”  Ta da. Instant connection.

Now I’m not really condoning carrying photos of fake pets with you.  But sharing a simple story about a pet can open a whole connection with someone new.  Humans generally care for their fur-kids even more than other humans in their lives. I know, that sounds harsh, but true.   I’ve had taxi and Uber drivers talk to me throughout a full ride about their dogs. I have customers who call with a problem and end up talking to me like we are BFFs because we’ve made a pet connection.

Granted, that “club” talk happens even more easily if you happen to have your pet with you.   It’s kind of like guys talking about sports cars, or young mothers talking about their toddlers.  There is an easier connection if the topic of conversation is right in front of you.  The other day I was out walking our ICS (Instant Conversation Starter), our new puppy, and an older, presumable retired couple were walking up the street on the other side.  They asked if they could come across to meet the ICS.  Our ICS turns herself inside out with joy at the prospect of meeting new humans, so certainly, come on over.  Within minutes we had covered all the basics – her age, the fact she is a rescue, her age and questionable breed mix, and I learned they had over their time together had 5 dogs, losing the last one a year prior.  At this point in pet conversations, invariable someone’s phone comes out to show photos.  And true to form, even though these folks do not currently have their own dog, they proudly presented pictures of a friend’s Boxer whom they pet sit.

With pets, unlike those motor head tall tales or proud mom chats, the conversation rarely turns competitive. I have yet to hear anything close to a “my dog is smarter/faster/newer/better than your dog” conversation.  No one compares horsepower, or at what age their pet started walking.  If anything, the talk tends to turn the opposite direction, like “my dog is so goofy…”

Everyone is on the same level when the topic is pets.  It is the Great Equalizer.  I may be wrong, but I tend to believe that if each high-level stressful corporate negotiation or contentious government partisanship meeting started with discussions about someone’s ranch horses, or beloved St. Bernard, or backyard goats, or perfect Persian, or chatty parrot, tough discussions would be kinder, gentler, and much more productive.

It truly is remarkable how little effort it takes to get a pet conversation going.  I suggest the next time any of us are in a new and potentially uncomfortable or awkward situation, try a new opening line, like “I was almost late today because my dog didn’t want me to leave.”  Then see what happens.  Worst case scenario, the other person responds with “ugh, I HATE animals.”

To which you will be forced to resort to a response like “That’s too bad.  Do you think it will snow tonight?”

Posted in communication, discussions, dogs, Entertainment, pet, Relationships, skills, social media, Social situations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Time We Mean It

stickersWe said “never again”.   Then three years ago, we did it again.  Then we said “ok, really, no more.”  Then last weekend, we did it again.

We held a Tag Sale. Or a Yard Sale or a Garage Sale, depending on where you live.

Why?  Because, just like the previous sales, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Until we once again experienced the coordinating, planning and preparation – all for, sadly, minimal results.  We let ourselves get duped by the fact that the last sale we held a few years ago was miraculously successful.  We made enough money to help pay for our vacation that summer, and we cleared out a lot of stuff.  Then this year, due to a storage unit full of items left behind by my brother who passed away six months ago, and another few years of junk accumulation in our house, we decided what the heck, let’s have a sale.  It was kind of like the angel and devil sitting on our shoulders, but in the form of tag sale gremlins.  “Don’t do it, you know it is a major pain in the ass, you don’t have the time to devote to clean out, sorting and pricing”  vs. “aww, come on, you’ll get rid of stuff, make some money, and it will be FUN!”

There are some folks out there who have tag sales annually, if not several times each summer. They are Pro Taggers.  OR, they are very casual and haphazardly toss stuff out on their lawn and hope someone comes along wanting to sort through junk and barter some prices.  But me, the classic R.W., has to treat it like an event, with far too much planning.  My husband and son groan and shudder as I start pawing through closets and the basement, gathering things in piles.  And everything must be priced.  A classified ad promoting the sale must be placed in the local weekly newspaper, online, and on Facebook.  Then in the early morning pre-sale set-up, things should be categorized and merchandised – Christmas décor together on one table, kitchen ware on another, and so on.   This year we even had a cooler filled with beverages for $1 each.

Sadly, though, no amount of event planning can guarantee a crowd.  Too many other factors are at play, like weather, heat, conflicting activities in the area, other tag sales, signage placed in the right places in the neighborhood, and just overall energy and interest by those who might have any desire to stop and shop.

The day of the Sale itself can either be entertaining or very dull.  It is one day that you will spend more time in your garage, driveway, and front yard than any other day.  It is more fun if you have a friend or neighbor who joins in on the sale and can help work the “event” to help with that whole boredom factor, OR to help handle customers.

While sitting or standing among junk – err, I mean treasures – and doing my best to send mental telepathy to passing cars to encourage them to stop and buy, I was at least entertained by the people who did pay us a visit.  I noticed some similarities and shopper habits.  First of all, the shoppers generally represent an older demographic.  Which is in some ways was a shame, because we had lots of stuff that would have been great for a young person with a new apartment to fill.  Then again, I suppose most Gen Y’s and Z’s have no interest in older used furniture and accessories.  They don’t embrace the Eclectic Variety of Hand-Me-Downs Style that I enjoyed in my young adulthood.  We did have a couple young moms come by to get some great deals, which is brilliant.  Of course they are brilliant. They are young RW’s.

  • The Sale Ninja. Usually a solo shopper, this bargain shopper slips in quietly, making no eye contact and not speaking. They appear to be looking for specific items, but don’t want to ask. They rarely buy anything unless one small item catches their eye, in which case they will reluctantly approach, and give exact change from their fanny pack. Most often, however, they don’t dawdle, and ninja-slink back down the driveway.  They want no interaction as if we might threaten to physically force them to buy something they don’t want or don’t need.  Personally, I take great glee in tossing out a hearty “Good morning!” and “Thanks for stopping by!” to watch them cringe and seek the shelter of their car.
  • The Socialites. The opposite of the Ninja, the socialites often come as a couple. If there’s a man, he does a quick browse to look for something interesting like an antique tool, then gets chatty to beat back his boredom while his wife shops.  OR, it could just be a happy shopper who enjoys striking up conversations.  These folks also rarely purchase anything.  We had one man who after a brief browse, spent most of his visit playing with, and discussing, our puppy.  He came back half an hour later to show us photos of his dog.  (We are dog people. It happens.)  Another woman who stopped towards the end of the day proceeded to tell us basically her life history. That’s ok. We had time on our hands.
  • Serious Deal Shoppers. These taggers often travel in groups, either with family members or friends. They know and love the Tag Sale drill and the thrill of the hunt. They have done their research to map out their route to various sales, and are making a day (or at least morning) of it. They are in no rush because they are having fun.  These are the best customers, because they chit-chat, joke around, ask questions, and usually buy.  We had one woman and her adult daughter who asked how to use a bread slicer I had available, because it was the second one they’d seen that weekend, and she was so fascinated to know how to use it that she had to have it.  Another woman was excited to buy a steamer to cook the beans she had just picked at a local farm. And one of the young moms told us about her five kids, and how she’d gone out with friends the night before for a mom’s night out and was still dealing with the hangover.  It didn’t impair her judgement, she found some good deals and discussed kitchen gadgets.

Ironically, I don’t go to a lot of other people’s tag sales.  I enjoy them, but either my weekends get too busy, or I just don’t need more stuff that I’ll have to find room for in my house. Perhaps going in to this long weekend, I’ll stop if I see an interesting opportunity.  I like to think that when I DO stop in to someone else’s event, I’m among that third category of shopper.  However, I do admit I have in the past slid into the Ninja variety.  Avert your eyes and move on.

At the end of the day of our sale, we were sweaty and tired, filled my husband’s van with everything left over to go to Goodwill, had made enough money for a couple dinners out, and had met some interesting people.  It wasn’t a horrible day.  But as we finished putting everything away and sat and counted out our meager earnings, we looked at each other and said “Never again.  We mean it this time.”   I give us about 4 years to forget our pledge.

Posted in cleaning, communication, Entertainment, events, family, friends, preparation, routines, sales, shopping, simplifying, storage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strike a Pose

girl-photographerI marvel at young women who unabashedly take multiple selfies of themselves at any given moment. Without a special occasion or reason, perhaps just a good hair day or great outfit, they pause, click-click-click and save or share.  In our youth we are eager to embrace a “look at me” attitude and pose for photos.  In my youth, selfies weren’t a thing, and we “got our photo taken” by family, friends, or by going to JC Penny or Sears for a formal sitting.  OR, we’d go through a fairly complicated and painstaking process of setting up a tripod or balancing a camera on a crooked rock, setting the timer, and running in front to attempt to look casual.  Then we’d have to wait a week or more to see the results.  But we still were happy to do it.

glam shot

The epitome of personal posing was the Glamour Shot craze in the 80’s.  For a nominal fee, you could get glammed up and photographed to feel like some kind of cheesy extra for Knots Landingor Charlie’s Angels.  There were even Glamour Studios set up in Malls (you remember those, large buildings with multiple retail shops that were the cool place to hang out – but more on that in some future post). 

 

My sister and I jumped once into the Glamour Shoot world when a dear friend of the family was shooting them to help pay his bills.  Full disclosure, I never once ever really looked like this in real life.  And oh, my, that hair.

As we get older, something happens to that exuberance and the “look at me” attitude seems to turn into a “please don’t” and “I’m going to hide behind a young person” reaction.  We get far more critical of ourselves, and because we don’t like our weight, or our wrinkles, or our whatever, we become more comfortable behind the camera.  We will take selfies in groups, or to commemorate special locations or activities. Or if we are in really great lighting and can take 10 – 15 shots then agonizingly analyze each one, deleting and retaking until we land on one that is ok to post or show others.  Thanks to the digital world we live in, that immediate retake and edit and delete process is readily available – but let’s face it, even with portrait mode, smartphone photos can be pretty awful.

A few weeks ago, one of my BFFs gifted me a professional photo shoot for me and my close group of friends…we call ourselves the Board of Directors.  This was no Glamour of the 80’s shoot, this was a celebration of friendships spanning 20 – 40 years, taken by a very talented photographer near Cape Cod. As the date of the photo shoot approached, we all eventually gave up our goals to lose 20 pounds, get tummy tucks, face lifts and tans, and decided we would shed our fears of being in front of the lens and started to look forward excitedly to having time together doing something special. We turned it into a full-fledged chick’s weekend, because we all need to do that more often as well.  The photographer put us at ease, made us feel beautiful (she actually called us adorable) and we relaxed and had a blast.  There was a lot of laughter and gentle direction from the pro.  Some of us learned (ahem) that we are tragically unable to achieve a sultry look, and we all practiced “smizing” (something else I can’t figure out how to do.)  After a few in-studio shots, we moved to the beach for some more fun.  The experience itself was worth the investment.

The other night we all had a conference call to review the proofs together. We were amazed by the resulting shots.  This was not a shoot involving professionally coiffed hair and make-up, and included no airbrushing, fancy gowns or tiaras. (Although there may have been a couple of pink princess hats).  It was just us, as we are – and we looked amazing.  Sure, we had a few comments in the group like “I look 8 months pregnant in that one”, “Can she get rid of my double chin?”, and “I need to get my teeth whitened”, but for the most part, the photos are beautiful. She had captured our true essences, our happiness together, and great light.  We are thrilled, can’t wait to order our prints and are so very glad that we stepped out of our comfort levels and had spent the day feeling like models.

Besides being forever indebted to my amazing Board of Directors and this very talented photographer, this experience has taught me a lesson about not being camera shy.  Sure, not many of us can afford a professional photo shoot.  But the next time someone wants to take a photo of me, I won’t make an  ugly face or try to hide.  I’ll simply smile.

My mother passed away before the time of taking and storing hundreds of digital images on iCloud. I don’t think she was necessarily resistant to having her photo taken, she was just so busy taking pictures of the rest of us that it never really dawned on any of us to turn the camera on her more often – and I wish we had.  The few photos I have of her, I cherish. Memories and moments and images need to live not just in our brains – they need to live where we all can see them as often as we want.

As for showing our age, well, shouldn’t our age be a badge of honor we polish and shine and show?  At this point in our lives, we have far more character, wisdom and joy than we ever had when we were in our teens and twenties. Trust me, the photos we take now tell our stories – and they are stories that should be shared.

 

 

group pose

Posted in beauty, celebrations, fashion, friends, photography, real style, real women, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dinner Not Served

The other evening, after sorting some mail and opening a couple of packages that had arrived, I needed to clear off my counters so I could make dinner. I scooped up the mess and moved it all to the most logical place: the dining table. Ah, yes, that horizontal surface that serves as a landing platform for a myriad of things that need a temporary home until our energy and desire prompts us to find more permanent item storage. Or, until we need to use that surface for something else like school craft projects, home repairs, wrapping gifts, or cooling baked goods.  Oh, yeah, and once in a while, for dining.

Clearly times have changed since large families gathered for daily, or regular, formal dinners in the Dining Room.  For those of us who are fans of Downton Abbey, we can’t wait for the movie to come out so we can enjoy great scenes like watching the family dynamics around a ginormous and lavishly laid out dinner table, with diners dressing for dinner and waitstaff serving food and beverage. These days, most families eat in shifts, dishing up their own food, hopefully pausing to sit together around a small kitchen table or in front of the tv.  Some don’t even have dining rooms. And we are lucky if we can get all family members to abide by simple rules like no hats, please wear shirts, and put your phones down.

I remember in my youth, the dining table was used for guests, parties and holidays. Living in an old farm house with a big family, our kitchen table was a big wood round behemoth that allowed for fairly large gatherings. But any time mom and dad decided we needed to kick it up a notch, we moved into the dining room.  Candles came out, fancier serving ware was used, and Mom and Dad ALWAYS sat at the heads of the table. We had our prescribed places, a carry-over from the more formal seating layouts of my grandparent’s day: guest of honor to Dad’s right, the rest of us alternating boy-girl and by age.  There was a swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room, allowing for the mess of the kitchen to be blocked out.

In our house today, 90% of meals are eaten at our kitchen table, which has space for four people, with possibly a fifth wedged in on the corner. There may or may not be placemats, there is likely a variety of styles of silverware, hopefully napkins available in the holder in the center, and depending on the meal, we could be eating off of paper, plastic, or china plates.  You can’t beat the convenience of being 3 steps away from the fridge and 6 steps from the stove and oven.  Which is good because if we have all four seats taken, that means there is likely not enough room on the table for serving dishes, so I serve up the food from the stove and countertops.  The TV is usually on.

Pretty much the only time we eat in the dining room is if we have more than four or five of us. That table comfortably seats six, with space to wedge in up to 8.  For big crowds, we use the kitchen table for overflow. Remember eating at the kid’s table? Same concept.  I enjoy using the dining table for what it was originally designed.  It means that we have guests visiting — friends, extended family, or co-workers. Conversations are animated and interactive because the TV is in the other room. People tend to linger a bit longer after the meal is through, not because the chairs are comfy (they aren’t, really), but because we are all facing each other, having conversations, have space to breathe, and the dirty dishes and mess can be moved into the kitchen and ignored a bit longer.

Between those events, however, the dining table acts a bit like the Island of Bizarre Collections. At this very moment, in place of a lovely table cloth and pretty place settings, the table is home for some extra bowls and Tupperware, a clock in need of hanging, a décor craft waiting to be completed, manuals and mechanical parts for my husband’s business, an empty hummingbird feeder, cleaning supplies and a box of Ziploc bags (I don’t know why).   On the chairs, rather than guests, are coats that were left there rather than hung in the closet and work bags left in the seats.

This weekend when I go into white tornado mode and clean the house, I will dutifully clear the decks and find the top of that table. I may even spruce it up with a vase of flowers. It will only be a matter of time before it is covered again.  Which is just as well, because soon it will be void of diners for another reason: good weather.  When we aren’t eating at the kitchen table, we will likely be out on the patio or pool side.

Yes, times have changed, but I’m not sad about the shift.  Because even if our fancy dinners are at a minimum, that table holds nearly 20 years of memories including Easter egg coloring with the kids, a platform for the tripod to take family photos, a place to pile Christmas gifts after opening, a surface to hold the cage of a hamster or fish in need of babysitting, a serving area for party foods, the creation of elementary and middle school project posters and sculptures, jewelry exchanges between girlfriends, repairs of jukebox pinbanks, holiday cookie platter organizing, hours of board and card games, business discussions and plans, the work-from-home command center – and best of all, laughter, tears and stories shared at gatherings.

If that table could talk, the tales it could tell would rival anything juicy shared at a Downton dinner.

 

 

 

 

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Look Local

rabbitIt was a cool, rainy day. The dreariness cast a grey mood upon us all.   No, this isn’t the start to a mystery novel or a horror movie script.  It’s the description of the majority of days we’ve experienced in the northeast all spring.  It has been pretty darn ugly, and it is wearing us down.

On this particular dank morning, not unlike at least 40 others previous, I went about my business of getting ready for work and seeing my son and husband off for the day.  I caught snippets of national and world news from the tv and my social feeds.  Like the weather, everything I heard was depressing.  Shootings, environmental crises, plastic in our oceans, endangered species, tariffs, threats of terrorism, war and spying, poverty, illness, political back-stabbing and lies – and lots of anger and frustration. My Pollyanna-Little-Mary-Sunshine fuel tank was headed towards empty in a hurry.  The issues that confront us get so overwhelming, we start to feel defeated before we even step out the door, while at the same time we are racked with worry and guilt about not doing enough to make positive changes.  Of course, as typical RW’s, we carry around the world’s problems all while managing our own microcosm of family and friend needs, issues and challenges.

I looked out the window at the usual light rain and instead of marveling at how lushly green everything had become, I worried about weeding my gardens, and if it would ever be warm and safe enough to plant new annuals and perennials. Then I saw Mr. & Mrs. Bunster.  They are our two wild backyard brown rabbits who I have a hunch have taken up residence under our shed  (which yes I realize means we will have more in the Bunster family very soon).  They were ambling around eating clover, unconcerned about the deluge of bad news and indifferent to the rain.  Mr. Bunster paused and had a brief stare down with the grey squirrel who was on his way for his usual morning routine of trying to navigate up the pole to the bird feeder.  They chose to ignore each other and went on their ways.  Peacefully.  Watching the Bunsters gave me enough of a boost to move on with my day.

Later in the morning, I headed back out (in my raincoat with hood up because many of us have given up on looking good outdoors) for a first consultation appointment with a new Primary Care Physician.  She was perky, friendly, intelligent and absolutely gorgeous.  I will try to not hold any of that against her. She seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me. On the way back to work, I made two other brief stops. First at the bank, where a new Associate (I could tell she was new because of the festive welcome banner her co-workers had strung across her counter) introduced herself to me, told me how happy she was to be at that branch, and wanted to know my name. You know, all the things an ATM doesn’t do.  I was feeling better and the rain was letting up as I made my second stop at a café to pick up some lunch to take back to the office.  I walked in and saw a friend who was there having coffee with another friend. Cozy, relaxed, friendly.

I realized that when we get too absorbed by the big picture, we forget to appreciate the smaller picture. We’ve all heard about Shop Local initiatives, but I think we also need to take the time to Look Local, and Interact Local.  It’s ok to occasionally stop worrying about world events and realize that there are nice, friendly, kind, caring people right in front of us.  We can seek comfort at home, in our town, at work, in our backyards.  As tempting as it is, we can’t stick our heads in the ground and ignore all the scary stuff for the rest of our lives, but there’s no rule that says we can’t take sanity breaks.  When we need it most, there will be someone to smile at us, show interest in what we have to say, or share a laugh or a hug.  And there will be bunnies hopping by to remind us that in our little world, for that moment, everything is just fine and beautiful.

Even more amazing, the sun will come out again.  At some point.  Maybe even tomorrow.

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Posted in beauty, celebrations, family, friends, Health, Helping others, home, life phases, love, moods, Seasons, simplifying, social media, Uncategorized, weather, work, World news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visibly Invisible

green bowlIn true DIY fashion, for the past few weeks my husband has been doing a refresh of our kitchen. He scraped and repainted the popcorn ceiling (not a project for the faint of heart – messy and no fun for him, and even with tarps used, it still took me two days to clean the fine white powder off every surface in the house), and he has painted the walls and all of the trim. Nearly done, and it looks great.

This morning as I was emptying and rinsing the old ugly plastic bowl for recyclables that lives on my counter, I suddenly realized:  hey, I could be wild and crazy and get something else that actually matches the kitchen and looks nice on the counter!   More than 10 years ago at least, I tossed that green plastic container on the counter to collect recyclables that could then be taken out to the garage and sorted on a daily basis.  It was a bowl I happened to have on hand at the time, was durable and cleanable, so voila! There it has lived on the counter ever since. Something we look at every day, yet it had become invisible.  It in no way matches my sunny yellow-blue-and-white kitchen.  It is in no way attractive. I could have replaced it long ago, yet it apparently took a major surrounding beautification project for me to even notice it.

So this has gotten me thinking about what other things in our lives have become virtually invisible yet are in front of us every day, and could really use some attention.  Maybe it is a burned out light bulb in the bathroom and you’ve gotten used to the slightly dim cast.  Or it could be a pair of pants with a torn hem, that have been pushed to the back of the closet.  Or my favorite, that invisible jar of pickles, salsa or dressing in the fridge that expired 6 months ago.

Even my gym bag is a good example. It actually isn’t a gym bag. It is a ratty old fabric tote bag that about 100 years ago I got as a gift-with-purchase and because it was there, I started using it for carrying around my workout clothes.  I think about replacing it every time I pick it up. Then promptly forget about it as soon as it once again becomes invisible in the corner of the bedroom between uses. No one else would ever give a damn what I carry my workout stuff in, but I hate that bag. It is ugly and too small. And yet – I continue to use it because I apparently can’t be bothered to shop for a real bag.  Or, more likely, it disappears from my view and my thoughts.

I have a strip of “garden” between my front porch and the driveway.  It is an odd area that gets little sun, and lots of snow pile abuse. Ages ago, I had the brilliant idea to plant ivy and pachysandra, thinking it would become a lovely green lush ground cover.  Each year, I have believed “it will fill in more next year.”  15 years later, it is still scraggly.   And, you guessed it, it has become visibly invisible.  I only notice it when the ivy is trying to creep up the wall of the house or out into the driveway, and will give it a hair cut. Otherwise, it is a largely ignored space.  My stepson, who does landscaping part-time, gently mentioned to me recently that the area could probably look better with something else in there.  Clearly it is quite visible to him.  Around the corner from my scraggly ivy patch was an equally scruffy Speria bush that I asked him to help me remove.  I came home from work one day to see the bush gone, leaving a lovely clear ready-to-be-beautified patch of dirt.  I was shocked how good the empty space looked.  Suddenly that invisible ivy patch is as noticeable to me as a neon sign.   It’s gotta go.  I’m planning to tackle it this weekend, and am now researching better shade-loving perennial options that will be lovely and visible.

Understandably, many of our invisibles stop being noticed simply because they would require time, energy and money to change, all three of which are in short supply for any R.W.  Visibly invisible items are some of the lowest on our priority lists.  We have either chosen to ignore them, or are somehow intimidated by them (like my ivy weed patch), or are just so busy taking care of everything else, we just learn to live with things like ugly counter buckets.  I do want to point out, however, that the invisibles in a woman’s life are different then in a man’s life.  Nearly anything and everything that leaves a man’s hand can, and does, become invisible. Dirty socks on the floor, junk mail on the table, tools left on the counter, dishes in the sink – all invisible to the male eye.  Perhaps we RW’s are so busy seeing and taking care of their invisibles that we just gloss over our own.

Until, finally, for some reason something has become so noticeable we decide to take action, and it can be pretty darn exciting.  I’m giddy thinking about a trip to Home Goods for a new recyclables bin.

 

 

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One of Many Firsts

calendarI started my day today feeling a bit off, a little sad.  After all, it was the first holiday, the first Easter, since my older brother passed.  I woke up keenly aware that today there was no Easter basket for him containing white chocolate, a wind-up toy for his collection, and his preferred style of polo shirt. There would be no silly Easter puns, no special requests for dinner, and no traditional family egg-cracking contest.  Ironically, so many of the things that used to run me ragged and annoy me, I now miss.

That’s the thing about loss that we all experience.  There will always be holidays, events, and moments that are “the first since.”  How we handle those “first since” days is a total unknown until they are upon us.  We need to be ready that some of them will be downright miserable. We will be sad, mad, anti-social, and will only want the day to be over.  But then others will be ok, possibly even good – maybe even happy.  We need to believe that wherever we land is ok.  It is what it is.

Any of us who have people in our lives who are going through their “first since” days (and I know a few) need to try to be supportive and understanding. Offer to be with her, but don’t be offended if she just wants to be alone.  Let’s face it, our moods and coping mechanisms during grief are a crapshoot at best. Grief is like an alien being that tries really hard every day to take control of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our energy. Some days we are better at beating back that alien, other days we are just too darn tired and we let the alien take the wheel.

For me today ended up being ok – even good. Sure, there were some tears off and on, but the church service this morning was lovely, and the small kiddos in their Easter dresses and bow ties and suspenders were adorable.  The weather cleared enough in the afternoon for me to get in some quiet therapeutic time in my gardens and out on a bike ride. I spent time doing some college planning with my son.  Since this was a planned casual at-home holiday, we decided to hold off and have dinner a bit late, so my stepson who flew into town this evening from a work trip could join us. As expected, he regaled us with stories, because he’s just one of those guys who always has tall tales to tell.  I decided on the menu myself – ham with baked apples, twice-baked potatoes, green beans, cheddar biscuits, and blueberry cream pie for dessert.  Comfort food all the way.  My brother would have been ok with the selection, although he would have preferred mashed potatoes and beets.

It was not like any past Easter.  And that’s the other thing about “first since” days.  They mark the beginning of how things will never be the same, and we have to start navigating through our journey of what to do now.  How to feel, how to act, even what to eat.  Not an easy task, but we can manage. Because we have to.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter whether it is the First Since, or the 20thSince, our loved ones want us to carry on, want us to be happy. They would want us to celebrate the time we had with them and to share memories of them, but to continue to live our lives. Even if it feels a bit awkward at first, and even when we can’t help but have moments when we are focused on their absence. I know for a fact that my brother looked down upon me today and was disappointed that I hadn’t done any colored eggs this year.  My heart just wasn’t in it.  But I think by next year, I’ll be ok with it, and I will re-introduce his beloved egg cracking contest in his honor.

Because as we wade through the First, Second, or Tenth Since, it’s nice to sprinkle in some traditions to make them feel just a bit closer on the tougher days.

 

 

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