Thursday, September 19, 2013

Worse than a nightmare?

I think the only thing worse than waking up from a nightmare, is waking up and realizing, it isn't a nightmare...its a flashback.

Flashbacks happened, they are real and sometimes, no matter how deep you bury them, they come back to the surface. 

Estate Planning & Messy Stuff

I know for a lot of people this is going to be hard to read, but please, please do! The post below talks about very important grown up things, and even if you don't count yourself as grown up-if you support other people, you are!

Life gets crazy and things change.  You pay bills every month or every year and you look for ways to cut back. In a cost cutting measure, we dropped our life insurance.  We figured that we both had employer sponsored life insurance and that it would be ok to drop the large policy we had when we got married.  Only later when he had back problems and didn't work full time anymore did we consider it, but, by then it was too expensive. 

I had NO life insurance on him when he died.

It was a situation that I was completely unprepared for.   I wish that someone had told me about the "worst case scenario" before he died--and not a sales person either.  Someone my age, that said, hey I made that mistake, learn from me and don't do it.  Really, I do.  So here I am.   Here are a few technical things I wish were different.

1. Get life insurance...lots of it, more than you will ever think you will need.   Enough to cover paying off your house, your cars and living on for quite sometime.   If you die, your spouse will need this support.  If they are working they can use it to put the kids through college or something.  Run, don't walk, go do this NOW.  Seriously, you are still reading? GO!!!!

2. Write a will...who gets what (it can be as simple as my spouse gets everything) even though most states this is the law and most families don't argue with it, if your spouse needs this damn piece of paper, TRUST me, things are not good and the very least you could have done is have a piece of paper that gives your surviving spouse rights to everything.   Believe it or not, families and friends can get CRAZY when people die.  

3. Have a power of attorney.  Do you want to be on life support?  Do you want your organs donated? All of your organs? Do you want to be cremated? Where would you like to be buried?   Have the discussion.  As hard as it is to have now when you and your spouse are healthy, it is much, much harder for your spouse to sit and defend their choices to people.   If it is written down, the paperwork defends your spouse in carrying out choices that you agreed upon.   Again, people get CRAZY with grief. They are in a tailspin and like little children they lash out---protect your spouse from the grave.  Get your crap in order and make your wishes known.   Do it now, when no one is ill and time is not pressing.   We had this discussion many, many times, I knew exactly what he wanted and I did it--but--it wasn't in writing so I had to explain and keep defending our decision.

4. Have a plan in place.   Who are your go to people?  Who will be the ones that your spouse can call to help them with everything that HAS to be done.  I was lucky here in that my parents and siblings got their butts down to Texas ASAP and spent time telling me-sign here, do this, you need to call this person yadda, yadda, yadda.   I am beyond blessed to have such  a great family that looked out for our interests I cannot even express it.

What I can say is that there are people that come out of the woodwork immediately and then again later and will try and get things that aren't theirs to get, or they will take advantage of someone grieving a loss.  It is sick, it is wrong, I believe there is a special place reserved for this kind of behavior, but know that it does happen, it can happen and it likely will happen.   Who are your "people" that your spouse or you could turn to?  They may not be family but you just need to know. 

Take it from me, please, please go make sure that you have these things tied up.   That you have legal documents in place.  Do it when you have the luxury of time.  Learn from my experience and at my own personal expense.   Your spouse will not need to deal with the crap that doing these things will prevent.  

I know that it is hard, no one wants to think about the worst case.  No one wants to imagine life without their spouse.  I get that.  We didn't.  Let me tell you it is harder than anything you can imagine, so I beg you--go do these simple things.  Do them because you love your family and you would like to protect them just a little bit.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tragedy Today

The world is different than it was when we were kids.   I know this is true for every generation.  But hear me out. 

There is a ton of tragedy in this world.  Think about the past year.  Think about the  headlines.  Odds are that the headlines that came into your thoughts were some of the really terrible things that have happened.

Think about how we welcome tragedy into our lives via the media.  We are shown suffering of others on the TV and we read about it in the papers.  Now think about 50 years ago.  Network television was in its infancy and didn't permeate every facet of our lives.  Today, the media can literally bring us to tragedy.   Things that we would not have otherwise witnessed we are watching through our own eyes.   We literally watch people fall apart.   What the short news cycle doesn't show us is that people get up.  The pick themselves up and they put themselves back together. 

Now if tragedy has struck close to home either in our community or your circles of friends, you might have seen this.  Maybe, if you looked hard enough, you saw the mom of the sick kid actually playing with her kid on the playground without tearing up.   You saw the single parent walking down the street with their child smiling.   You see people all around you persevering and simply putting one foot in front of the other.  This part of the human story, we don't see in the news nearly as often.  We don't see people recovering from their struggles and we don't hear the stories of the "common people" in everyday tragedies. 

So yes, while tragedy does touch all over the world, remember that there are people in your community all over the country living through their tragedies everyday.  Something as simple as a smile from a stranger can make a world of difference to these people. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Attack of the Widow Brain....

There is this fog that descends upon a brain when it is in shock.   There is well researched "chemo brain" and people refer to "senior moments" when they get to about 50 and start to forget things here and there.  

In the widowed world, we don't have an official term, however I will just call it "widow brain".  Where you are standing there and you know you have to do something, but you are dumbstruck as to whatever that could be....forget the obvious clues, like an open dishwasher and dirty dishes in the sink---we will forget about the part of me running into the dishwasher and going flying through the kitchen....yep we will totally forget about that. 

But in my case, I forget even the most mundane the ability to count to 6! Yes, I did say 6!. 

See this weekend, I had a birthday party for my sister.  Taking after her big sis, she has her birthday and wedding anniversary in the same week.  Smart girl!  Earlier this week, I went out to find her a suitable gift.   I looked it up, and the traditional gift for five years of marriage is wood.  Huh, I thought, hmmm...her husband built her a beautiful swing and trellis for their 4th anniversary, that's cool-maybe he should have waited a year. 

I'm wracking my brain on what to get made out of wood.  Well she loves to cook and host parties so I settle on a large nice bamboo cutting board. 

I go about my week.   My brother in law comes over and takes my son to the store to pick out a cake.   They come back and it says happy 33rd birthday.  I could have sworn she was 35...oh crap wait, that is my brother who is 35, she really is 33. 

Well, I fill out their card, with something sappy and sweet and wish them a happy 5th anniversary and wish them a hundred more together and happy. 

Well they get here and my dad says, wow, guys six years together.

WAIT. WHAT??? Now wait a second dad, it is five.   My sister laughs, "nope it is 6...munchkin is 6 we have been married six years."  

DUH.  I said, well when you open your card, just know I can't count!   The afternoon wears on and the kids make sure to fit all 33 candles on her is peppered with jokes about how they can count much better than I can!

Fast forward to this morning, munchkin was home from school yesterday so this morning was rushed with breathing treatments and getting ready.  I ordered some stuff online with a friend to save on shipping and I needed to bring her money this morning.   She just sent me a text, I gave her an extra $20! 

I am planning on blaming these transgressions on lack of sleep.  I think I seriously either need more sleep than my body will get in several months or I am the one that needs to be in FIRST GRADE!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Remembrance of September 11, 2001

Twelve years ago this morning, the world as we knew it changed.   I was working at the hospital and after reloading a crash cart, I looked up on a TV screen and thought it was very odd that they were showing the movie "Armageddon" in an ER.   I completed my rounds and a little while later heard that we were under attack.    I was expecting my sister to fly to see us for her birthday the next day and I said a prayer of thanks that she was not in the air when everything happened.  

One of our pharmacists had family in Pennsylvania, and she left after not being able to get in contact with them.   We were the closes trauma center to IAH and it was eerily quiet to not hear planes in the sky.  I called Robert and roused him from his sleep-he had worked the night before.  When I got home from work we sat glued to the television watching the news reports as most people did.  We held each other, not knowing what would happen next, only knowing that it would be ok because we had each other.  I remember seeing images of people jumping from widows in the upper stores of WTC and thinking to myself-what is so bad up there that they would jump to certain death and I cried for them and I cried for their families. 

Today, 12 years later, I think of all of the families that have had to go on missing a piece.  I think of all of the children that grew up without a parent.   I think of all of the soldiers that were deployed and all that gave their lives so that today I have freedom.   Think of that.   Think of all of the families that lost someone.  

Then I think about all the courageous people who stood up and refused to let their loss define them.  I think of Taryn from the American Widow Project who works with military widows.   I think of the parents that got up everyday and put breakfast on the table and got the kids off to school and kept plugging along even though their spouse was killed in a horrible attack.  I think of all of these things.  

I wonder when my son will start to ask questions about September 11.   Thus far he has not, but one day he will.  I wonder how I can explain hatred to a child.  How can I explain that there are people that let their lives be so ruled by hatred that they are blinded and they do terrible things.   But, today, today, I just remember. 


Yesterday morning walking to school, we encountered a big fat fuzzy caterpillar in the crosswalk.  He was yellow and he was moving pretty darn fast for a caterpillar!

Munchkin immediately saw him and wanted to save him.   There were no cars, so I told him he could pick him up.   He gingerly bent down and tried to coax him into his hand.   It didn't work.

A car came and we exited the crosswalk.   Munchkin yelled to the car not to run over his caterpillar.   I am not sure that there are words to describe his animation and conviction that he used.  Suffice it to say, that had I let him, he would have covered that caterpillar with his body to protect him.  We tried again with a stick, and again, that caterpillar had other plans.

Another car approached and we again exited the crosswalk, this time it was a teacher and she said we could cross, I replied, go ahead we are rescuing a  caterpillar.   She chuckled. 

This time we went with a leaf,  the caterpillar crawled into the leaf in his hand.  He very carefully walked with that leaf and caterpillar cradled in his hands.  He was so cute and so determined to make sure that caterpillar didn't get hurt or scared.  He took it to a tree next to the playground and whispered to the caterpillar.  We went on to put down his backpack and play. 

When I picked him up, he asked me if I made sure that the caterpillar stayed out of the street.  I assured him that I did not see him in the crosswalk. 

This morning, he asked me if the caterpillar would remember his message.  I assured him that he would.  Curious, I asked him, "what did you tell the caterpillar?"

He replied, "I told him when he turns into a beautiful butterfly, to please fly to heaven and tell daddy that I love him"

I am awestruck by my son daily.   I am currently sitting here and being grateful for having such a special and loving child.  He has such an understanding of things that no child should have to experience.   At the same time, I am awed by his grace and compassion.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Past, Present and Future....

This past weekend, one of Munchkin's scouting outings was at Robert's Alma Mater.  It coincided with 15 years to the day of when we got engaged and celebrated our engagement with a mass at the Abbey across from campus.  We were actually engaged the day before, but you know being the busybody that I am, I had gotten us Bears tickets as a surprise for him and he had planned our engagement.  In light of the Bears game, he had to push our engagement celebrations over a few days.  I was perfect.  

Fifteen years ago, I was looking forward to a wonderful long marriage together.  Today, I am an only parent.  It was a day filled of memories.  Filled of ghosts of the past on that campus. 

I made a decision.   Munchkin and I were there to do scouts.  He was there to have fun with his friends and really I didn't think it would have been fair of me to share my ghosts with him.  So I didn't.  I did post on Facebook so that my grown up friends knew what I was thinking, but I hid my sorrow from my little boy in his Tiger Cub uniform.  He was busy being a boy with his friends and he deserves to have his time unburdened by my memories.  Right, wrong or indifferent, I try very hard to have balance in our lives.   Instead of dragging us through the past and opening old wounds, I try to keep us grounded in the present.  When Munchkin asks questions, I answer them honestly and truthfully.   He goes through phases where he asks lots of questions and then times when he doesn't ask any.  I try and follow his lead-I figure he will ask what he wants to know and as long as I answer him, he will keep asking. 

As I was helping clean up, the skies opened to a spectacular display of rays of light shining down from heaven.  I know Robert was with me.  I know he lives on in my heart, and the visual was just a simple affirmation for me.   Let me tell you, the pictures below, don't do it justice.  It was as if the rays were reaching down and touching the stadium. 

It is decidedly odd to have my life come full circle.  A place I shared with Robert that brought us great joy, is now a place I shared with Munchkin.   It is such a dichotomy-to have a place of joy with each of them, that they don't get to share together.   I am having a hard time describing what that feels like, which is weird because it pretty much encompasses my life.   I shared joy with Robert, I now share joy with Munchkin yet, I am the only commonality between the two of them.   Robert doesn't get to help raise his son whom he wished and wished to have for so many years.  

At any rate, I take a deep breath and just try to enjoy it for what it is-the daily goings on of my life. 

Friday, September 6, 2013


I have gotten immune to writing "deceased" on forms that require Robert's name.  Either that, or I just grind my teeth and get through it, with the speed and force of ripping off a Band-Aid.  It hurts for a second, but if you just pull it quickly it is over.   The scab is still there and the skin may be raw but, the Band-Aid is gone.  I guess I have come to terms that I will be writing deceased for a LONG time to come.  I don't agonize over ever form and every blank, or even shed a tear at every letter.   Now, the forms that demand a second contact, those tick me off to no end.  I usually write my name twice and wait for someone to question it.  They usually don't. 

What I am not used to is selecting my title.  I no longer feel like I am a Mrs.  I am definitely too old to be a Miss, and Ms. just doesn't seem right either.  I guess I don't feel like a Mrs.  because that is half of a pair.  Like Yin & Yang, it should be Mr. & Mrs.  only Mr. isn't here anymore. 

The other thing is that sometimes people can assume I have a husband.   Couple that with my tendency to answer questions about him in the present tense, well that makes it very confusing and awkward when I blurt out "my DEAD husband" to clarify.   Yep, just send me off to the Looney bin now!

I digress.  There needs to be another designation.  I mean, widows have earned their stripes so to speak.  We have endured and persevered through things that are unimaginable.  Even in a worst nightmare, most people would not picture our car accident.   They wouldn't picture all of the things that I went for that I still don't have the words to share with all of you.  

I know this.  Those of us widowed know this.  but at the end of the day, we are still left with three choices, any of which are considered proper etiquette.  So I chose Mrs. 

For some reason, it just doesn't sit right....perhaps I should go back to school and get that PhD?  Then I can solve it by just being Dr.-but for now, you can just call me Princess :)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Just a little HOPE

This past weekend after spending a ton of time at the beach with family, we finished it off with going to watch the start of the sailboat race.   The morning was cool and it was a ton of fun.  The waves were VERY rough, so much so that we thought that they would call off the race.    The picture below is deceiving, that concrete wall is about 25 feet above the the waves are coming more than half way up. 

We were sitting on the harbor side of the breakwall watching the waves crash over the lighthouse.  The first boat started and then turned around.   Another one started out and stopped.   Finally, a smaller sailboat went right by us and raised the sail.   As I caught the backside of the boat I noticed that it was named "HOPE". 

That little boat, skillfully sailed along the breakwall and went right out into the lake and waited.   One by one, the rest of the boats, about 30 in all, followed that little HOPE and the race began. 

As you can see, the riptides were strong...I mean, the life guards went to the trouble to post signs that "death may occur".     When you look at the pictures of the boats, you can see how far they are all listing.   It honestly looked like many of them would be hit by a wave and flipped. 
I am struck by the irony of this.   I am one to choose hope and faith  above all else.  I have always been.  For me, the best part of the morning was family.  I was there with my son, brother, cousins aunts and uncles.   I didn't even bring my camera and I think I took less than ten pictures with my phone.  My cousin is the one to thank for the beautiful pictures.    I sat and was present with my family for some very peaceful time.  Something five years ago seemed impossible.   I let my son play in the sand with his cousins and I sat and visited with the grownups.   It was peaceful and it was   perfect.   So I am glad that my perspective on life allows me to realize what is happening around me and to be present and find joy again.   I am always grateful for hope and joy in whatever way they show up in my life!