Monday, May 30, 2011

I'm a widow?

As you probably know by now, my husband, Fred, passed away April 23 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. It's hard to believe it has already been more than a month. I miss him every day, and if I don't keep my mind busy, I flash back to scenes from our lives together, both good and bad. Much of the time, I'm fine, but at any minute something can trigger my emotions. Grief is like riding waves. Some are small, some are huge, and there are calm places between the waves.

Meanwhile I'm trying to grapple with my new identity as an unmarried woman, a widow. I have a hard time with that term. It feels like there's an implied "pitiful" attached to the word "widow". Know what I mean? In other places and other times, a woman without a husband might be poverty-stricken and homeless, but that's not my situation, thank God. I just miss Fred.

As I reported earlier, his kids were here to help with the memorial service and that first week full of upheaval and out-of-town visitors. That was truly great. Now they have disappeared again. The oldest son got married, and I wasn't there. Too far, too soon. The daughter is back to work, school and loving her kids and grandkids. The youngest, who was supposed to come pick up some of his father's things, didn't show up.

When I went back to the cemetery for the placement of Fred's ashes in the mausoleum, I went alone. Then I sat in a chair stairing at the urn and cried alone. Even if they were my own children, I might have been alone because they don't live here. It's my choice to stay in Oregon. I can't blame them for the distance or for being busy with their own lives.

Meanwhile, I have a wonderful group of friends who feel like a family. Some of them are widowed, too. Others let me join them with their husbands and children for holidays and special events. I think we all need to reach out to other people and bring them into our lives. Young or old, there's no reason we can't love someone, even if they're not officially family.

Will I ever get married again? If so, might I take on a whole new set of stepchildren and stepgrandchildren? Do I want that? I don't know. I don't expect to find anyone as great as Fred was.

Now that the marriage has run to its death-do-us-part end, I ask myself if it was worth sacrificing my chance at motherhood. Probably. Most people don't get a love like we had, and most people don't get to do all the things I have been able to do as a childless woman. But if I had to do it over again, would I insist on having children? Yes, I would.

Peace to you all.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lost in the Land of Kids and Mommies

I taught a writing workshop last night at the local intermediate school and found myself in a foreign country. Having never had children, I didn't spend my younger years taking my kids to school and attending school events. I've done a few interviews at school, but even those were a long time ago. It felt strange from the get-go. For one thing, I was old enough to the mother of all the adults present. When did that happen?

When I arrived, the doors were locked. Even during the day, they're locked for fear of dangerous strangers. When I was growing up in California, our schools couldn't be locked. The halls were all outdoors, but this place is like a prison, all indoors with very few windows.

A knock on the door got me in. Immediately a loud-voiced woman who looked too young to be a mom or a teacher started yelling that I had to sign in. Another young woman announced that she was the assistant superintendent of the school district and demanded to know whether I was a teacher or a parent. Uh, writer.

They brought me recycled paper, and we used recycled napkins to eat boxed pizza that could only be served by someone with gloves and a food handler's license. What happened to moms bringing cookies and punch?

Attendance was poor; apparently last night was a big night for school concerts and sporting events, none of which I knew about. Luckily I didn't pick the date, and someone else will have to recycle the leftover pizza and handouts.

As I began my talk, I realized the kids were barely paying attention and many of the words I used were probably too sophisticated, especially for the younger siblings who came along with their parents. I don't know what kids know at various ages these days, and I haven't developed that way of relating to children that some people, parents, seem to have.

I'm grateful that when I asked them to write, they did. A couple got so into it that they didn't want to stop, and they were happy to read their stories out loud when they finished. The event was a success because they did write.

But all night, I felt as if I was speaking in a foreign language, the language of someone who doesn't know how to act around children and their parents.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right

When I married Fred, he had three children from his first marriage. The youngest was 8 and the other two were teenagers. As with most of us, I had no idea what I was getting into. I could not imagine that the daughter would get pregnant and married at 17, that the youngest son would live with us from age 11 to 20, or that long periods of time would pass with no communication between us and Fred's kids. Ours was not just a geographical separation but an emotional separation as well. Fred was not a hands-on dad, and I didn't feel confident leaping over him to cozy up to the three kids. We were cordial enough, but it certainly wasn't like I imagine having our own would be.

Whatever separation we have had over the last 26 years, they rallied last month when their father died. Michael, the youngest at 34, came bearing food. He was here to help me, he said, and he did. So did his sister, Gretchen, 42, who drove nonstop from California. Ted, the oldest, couldn't get away from work, but he sent a eulogy and was here in spirit.

Gretchen brought her mom. We are lucky that we have always gotten along well. I know that is not the norm, but it was kind of wonderful bringing together the whole picture of Fred's adult life, each of us sharing the parts that we lived with him. As Gretchen put it at the funeral, "Mom" had the first half of his life, and "Sue" had the second.

We stayed up late drinking wine, going through photos to create a display for the service, and telling stories about Fred. My father and brother also came up from California and it really did feel like one happy family. In death, Fred brought us all together, and I felt the barriers between us dissolve.

Will I see them again now that Fred is gone? I think I will. It took a lot of years but we are finally a family.

If your stepchildren are giving you nothing but grief, hang in there. They will grow up, and you will always have one big thing in common: You all love the same person.

Surviving Mother's Day

Dear childless friends, the Mother's Day assault is on. In the course of three minutes of channel surfing the morning shows, I came across gifts for "Mom," a Mother's Day breakfast cooking demo, and two TV show hostesses wishing each other "Happy Mother's Day." It's enough to drive a childless woman nuts, especially if she didn't exactly choose to be childless. Do I hear an AMEN?

I jotted down a few suggestions for surviving this holiday.

* Either avoid the television until after Mother's Day or record the shows you want to watch and skip the commercials. Or, watch DVDs until it's over.

* Instead of dwelling on your own lack of children, honor the women who are mothers in your life--your mother, grandmothers, sisters, friends and others. By taking the attention off yourself, you may be able to put a positive spin on Mother's Day.

* Buy yourself a gift. You know you deserve it.

* If you have stepchildren, don't expect them to show up bearing gifts. They're busy with their real mother and probably won't even think about you. Don't take it personally.

* Avoid restaurants and mom-oriented events. Get away from it all by going hiking, to the gym, to a movie, to the dog park, or something else where the emphasis is not on moms and their children. I'm attending a poetry conference this weekend.

Here's another suggestion, and this is important. If you really feel that your life will be ruined if you never have kids and that your partner will never understand, perhaps it's time to think about giving him an ultimatum: If we can't conceive or adopt a child together, I'm out of here. Do it while you still have time. For me, I think Fred was worth the sacrifice, but that's not always the case.

Overall, try not to feel sorry for yourself. If necessary, duck and cover until it's over. Happy, um, Monday.

I'd love to hear your suggestions.