I get by with a little help from my friends...
I’m almost six months into this “new phase” in my life. It honestly feels like it’s been much longer, and I’m still so lost when it comes to, well…everything. I live in this bizarre limbo, where I’m not married, but not exactly single. Other women sit and chat about the funny things their husbands do to “help” at home. How they “try” to do housework, or actually do housework, or be an equal partner to them. It’s been long enough now, that I no longer feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation. Talking about what Kenny “used to do” feels awkward; even if it was a funny thing he used to do. For instance, whenever he was supposed to do the laundry, he’d forget to turn the dryer on—literally every single time, our entire adult lives; years, and years before a brain tumor could be blamed for it! To me, it makes my heart smile to remember; to others, they just don’t know what to say, and it leads to a deafening silence. It becomes easier just not to say anything. On the flip side, I haven’t gone on a date since I was…well, ever really. I have no experience with match, tinder, findmeaman.com, or any other dating website. My last, first date led me to marriage and three kids; so I have no experience with bad dates, bad setups or bad breakups to trade war stories with. I’m not really ready to date yet, either. So I’m in this weird, undefined space.
Then I have life. Real, real life; where I have three kids who have only me to rely on. Some days I'm a rock star, some days I’m a hobo. Some days, I manage to get everyone up, fed, dressed and looking snazzy for school; some days I’m ripping a brush through Cam’s hair on the walk over, and throwing a ziplock full of Cheerios to Nate while he’s still in his PJ’s in a stroller. It’s an endless work in progress (I’m sure not as endless as it feels…we’re only four weeks into school, but it feels like twelve!). Then there are the rough days; the ones where I, myself, am just getting by, because I’m sad, and stressed, and overwhelmed. I do what I have to and my kids are never neglected. They want for nothing (even attention), but I FEEL rough. Sometimes I reach out to people, because just venting helps. There are other times I take pause, though, because the reaction I get from people doesn’t quite help. Don’t get me wrong, people intend to help, they WANT to help. Which has had me thinking a lot…after a few months here, in this limbo space, I feel qualified enough to share a few pointers. Like I said, I know most people just want to help—even if they don’t know how. From my heart to yours, here’s how.
1) When I’m clearly feeling rough, positive vibes are always welcome; however, when I hear “Stay strong!” or “Be strong!” or “Stay tough!” it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong—like I’m not being strong enough. I assure you friends, being sad that my husband is gone is normal. Having waves of grief, with days where I feel lonely or angry—those are totally normal. In fact, living through those days doesn’t make me any less strong than the days I manage to do it all (and then some) with a smile on my face. It just means this really crappy thing happened, and I miss the amazing human I lost. Or maybe I’m overwhelmed with my new role as a single mom; having all of the responsibility for three kids on my own; or maybe I’m just lonely. I don’t have my dude anymore. The last few years took a toll on the friendships I had, and I become self conscious that people may feel like it’s weird that I’m texting just to chit chat. Sometimes, that’s really what I need: a lighthearted text exchange, a quick coffee date, or just knowing that you—as friend or family—understand that there are good days and bad days, and that’s okay, because I’m being as strong as I know how.
2) Being a widow does not make me a saint. What I mean by this, is that sometimes it feels like people almost see me as someone who never makes mistakes, or someone incapable of having fun. While it’s true that the last few years of my life were almost strictly consumed with caring for my sick husband and raising the babies we have, it’s not for lack of wishing we had a social life. Going out was hard for us; Kenny felt sick from treatments for more than a year (and that was before things got really bad). In hindsight, he found it very hard to connect with people the longer he was sick, which made it hard for me to, as well. Anyone who knew me before Kenny was diagnosed could vouch for the fact that I am about as silly and loudmouthed as they come. I might not have been for a while now, because I’ve had very different priorities. But at my core, that’s who I am. I laugh too loud. I say stupid things sometimes (mostly, very innocuous stupid things). I savor the moments I get to have that kind of stupid fun, because it reminds me that I’m a person, too—not just a mom, not just a widow. Sometimes being put on this pedestal is a bit much for me. Believe me, I know it feels like it doesn’t seem like things will ever feel “normal.” But it’s all the “normal” things that are getting us through this. All those things that help me feel like me—having fun, laughing, celebrating life when I have the chance. The best part? We can do those things together.
3) Last but not least, don’t judge my process, or progress. Maybe I’m just sensitive, or maybe some people just haven’t had to dip a toe in my Toms the last few years, but sometimes I feel judged on my every move. As a reminder, I’m not a saint (see above), I don’t have it all figured out, and I might not any time soon. The “it must be nice” statements regarding the fact that I’m still a stay at home mom, or am having a house built, are cruel at most and thoughtless at least. I rarely lose my cool with a well-meaning person who says something less than thoughtful (I’ve been known to stick my foot in my mouth on occasion), but if you “can’t imagine” being me, then you probably can’t understand my choices. Lucky for you, you don’t have to. I don’t intend this “point” to make people scared to talk to me, but to think of where I've been the past five years before you decide “it must be nice” to be me.
I get it, friends, I do. It’s not comfortable to talk to me sometimes. Trust me when I say that I’ve tried to put myself into your shoes, and that you’re probably already nervous enough to “say the wrong thing.” Also trust me when I say that aside from “it must be nice," almost nothing you can say is WRONG. I think a lot of people who watch my situation grapple with their own fears or insecurities about life, or what they think they’d do if they found themselves in my situation, or what they hope their spouses would do should something happen to them. It’s unnerving to have it shoved in your face at such a young age—to think that my situation is even in the realm of possibility. The good news is: it’s more than likely that you won’t ever find yourselves in my position. While, having lived it, I’d strongly recommend having some of these conversations with your spouse. More good news: even though this big thing happened in my life, it doesn’t mean that our relationships need to change, or that I can’t still talk about coffee (my BFF!), wine (my second BFF!), awesome workouts, cat memes, TV shows, your love life, how much we love our kids, how much we love getting away from our kids, and literally ANY old thing in life. Everything we talk about doesn’t need to be poignant, or deep, or about Kenny; and if it is about Kenny, it doesn’t HAVE to be sad, or awkward. I love to talk about Kenny…I love to hear stories about him I might not know, I love to remember stupid stuff we said or did when we were younger. It makes this transition into my new life more bearable to remember why the old one was so sweet. It helps me strive to make it great again, by remembering it wasn’t always so hard; and it helps me move forward to know that, even though I don’t have Kenny, I have friends who have my back; whether to see me through a tough day, laugh with me on a great day, or text about that jerk who told me it must be nice to be me ;)