Daily Prompt: Halloween treats from “And now for something completely different”

 If bloggers had their own Halloween and could go from blog to blog collecting “treats,” what would your blog hand out?

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Sweet-tarts.  Those addictive little morsels start out sour and almost unbearable.  Bite into them to find the sweetness.  The result is a luscious blend of sweet and tart, what I like to think of as a more adult, sophisticated treat.

More than just a candy, they are a metaphor for life after loss.  The sweetness comes eventually.   The edge never fully goes away, but it comes palatable, and eventually you realize that the sweet is that much more appreciated because of the tartness that still lingers.

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Plus you can string them onto a necklace that you wear and eat.  Which is awesome.

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The Seasons of My life

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Summer’s long days and warmth lull me into forgetting about the passage of time. I can dress the same at 6am as 6pm, and the daylight goes on and one. Summer is lush and easy and I become complacent. The heat and humidity encourage a more languid pace; it’s no coincidence that baseball, the sport that requires patience and careful attention to detail from fans and players alike, is a summer game. Winter and summer share the endless quality of one day following another, the feeling that everything will always be as it currently is. 

DSCN3441Fall is the season of goodbyes and transitions. Summer’s looseness gives way to a rekindling of vigilance. In summer, I don’t think much about what to wear; it will be warm all day. In fall, the temperature can vary by 50 degrees between 7am and 5pm. Autumn is football and kids going back to school.

IMG_1676Spring is when life rekindles and those of us living in Northern climes start projects. Fall and spring are short seasons in my part of the world, and both are filled with exhilaration and the sense that anything can happen. Tornadoes occur in spring and fall. The weather is changeable, and it’s not uncommon to have snowfalls and 70-degree days in a single week.

DSCN3447There’s a magic to these short seasons, a realization of how precious and fragile the time we have is and that every single moment counts. I’ve learned this from watching the seasons change each year, and it was driven home to me last year, as my life changed so drastically between July and September. The lesson I’ve taken from this is that life can be as capricious as Wisconsin fall weather patterns. That waiting until everything seems just right can mean never doing anything. I have no idea where my life will be in 10 years, or even next year, but I do know that wherever I end up will be because I took control and did something, instead of passively waiting for the weather to change.

and now for something completely different

A few weeks ago I asked for help in selecting a new blog name. It’s been a little over a year since my husband died, and I wanted to move forward from being identified solely as a widow to something more.

There were a lot of thoughtful and wise comments, and I have taken all of them into consideration. After due deliberation, I have decided that the Monty Python tag line “and now for something completely different” is the most evocative of my current status and outlook on life.

If you’re not familiar with Monty Python, check them out. I’ve loved them since first first viewing them on Chicago’s WTTW, when I was in high school. This comedy troupe created magic on TV and screen starting the in late 1960s. They began with a 30 minute TV show on BBC that careened from one sketch to the next. They lampooned everything from religion to politics to fashion, and they did it hilariously. One of the trademarks of the show was ending sketches smack in the middle of the script, often with one of the characters deciding that the sketch no longer made any sense or was “too silly.” At that point there would be an abrupt edit to something else.

John Cleese, one of the members, had the ability to sound like a Very Serious Adult. A voice clip of him saying “And now for something completely different” would be heard, and the video would be of him stark naked sitting on a piano bench, wearing a Beethovenesque wig and getting ready to play with an insane grin on his face, or doing the fish slapping dance.

The juxtaposition of that pompous voice and the ludicrous video is priceless. In fact, one of the greatest things about Monty Python is the way they continually remind us that life is not controllable, that unusual and strange things do happen, and that the best approach to life is to embrace all its bizarreness and just keep laughing.

Last year I encountered the Spanish Inquisition, and as the wise Python lads state, no one ever expects it.

Unlike the Norwegian Blue parrot, I am getting better.

I hope my new blog name communicates that all of do, indeed, encounter situations that completely upend our expectations, but that we can make it through and move on to whatever that something completely different is – even if it is the Spanish Inquisition.

Daily Prompt Person X Day – Ginger snaps and lowered expectations

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 She’s long gone from this world, having died almost 30 years ago.

Her two older sisters were born in Russia; she was born in Pittsburgh before the family moved to Chicago.  She was the first American born child, ending up as the 3rd oldest in a family of 7 girls and 1 boy.  The family lived on the West side of Chicago in an immigrant neighborhood.   They were fairly prosperous as her father, a carpenter, owned a small company that made trunks.   Her father developed work-related asthma from sawdust, probably a fairly common problem in those pre-OSHA days.  The family relocated to LA in a futile attempt to restore his health; he died there in 1921.

They returned to Chicago in sadder, poorer circumstances.  The memory of that train trip back East to bring her father’s body to Chicago stayed with my Grandmother throughout her long life.  My great-grandmother was in her late 30s, a widow with 8 children ranging in age from 15 to 2.  The older girls left school and went to work.  My grandmother waited until she was 14 and then left.  By now, it was the roaring twenties, and she was the wild one of the family, going out regularly with boys and dancing at speakeasies.

In later years, it was always hard to ascertain her exact age.  The official birth certificate was destroyed in a fire, and family needs caused the older children to add on a few years to make them eligible for better jobs.  The best I could figure is that she met my grandfather when she was 16 and got married when he was 19 and she was a few months shy of her 18th birthday.  They were a handsome couple, two blue-eyed blondes fond of stylish clothes and dancing.  Two years later, my mother, their first-born child, made an appearance.

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A few years later, in the midst of the depression, they made a move from the West side Chicago neighborhood where their friends and families were to a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  They lived there for 9 years, the only Jewish family in town.   By 1941 they’d moved to Wausau, a small city in Northern Wisconsin, where they lived for another 30 years.  I came into the world during those years.

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As a child, my grandmother seemed magical.  She was younger than my friend’s grandmothers, and more active.  She was an accomplished home cook and baker: in fact, she self-published a cookbook that sold quite well.  When we visited there was a cookie jar filled with freshly baked cookies handed to each of us kids; mine always had ginger snaps, my favorites then and now.   She was a great story teller and she and my grandfather remained fond of dancing and socializing throughout their lives.

My grandmother was a dynamo, the last one to bed and the first person up.  She didn’t participate in activities, she led them, and she was an active force in the women’s club world of the mid-twentieth century.  No matter how many activities she had going on, they all got completed, her house was spotless, and every meal was perfect.  In later years she went on publicity tours to promote her book and turned out to be a natural on camera.

I’ve often thought about what my grandmother’s life would have been like, had she been of my generation.   She was a natural for business and leadership positions, and could have been very successful in any field.  I wonder if she was ever frustrated at the boundaries that fenced in her in.  Had her family been upper class, she could have gone to college and perhaps even worked in one of the accepted women’s fields, but that wasn’t an option.  Instead, she had to apply her leadership and organizational skills to the realm of what was considered acceptable areas for women.     She didn’t just do well, she excelled at the limited opportunities she was given, and I still think it’s a damn shame that she couldn’t have done more.

I honor her memory every day by living my  life without the boundaries she had, and every time I bake a batch of ginger snaps I think of her.

The 10 Things that kept me (mostly) sane over the 1st year

Staying busy

The first few weeks were unbelievably challenging.  The reality of what happened was a fresh surprise every morning.  I wasn’t ready to engage in long, thoughtful discussions; I needed some way to stop thinking and just make it through the day.

The house my husband had lived in for 25 years had finally sold and I had 3 weeks to remove the accumulated personal and business items from it.  Between that and the messy financial and legal issues to wrangle with, my days were kept busy.  It didn’t seem lucky at the time; in fact, it was difficult and stressful, but I realize now that keeping physically busy was the best thing that could have happened.

Prioritizing: now versus later

Not everything had to be done RIGHT NOW.  Figuring out the difference was challenging.

The house closing was a set date, and the time spent working on that was unavoidable.  As was the time spent meeting with lawyers and real estate agents.  When I drove home after the closing, it was to a house with boxes piled high in the living room.  I became consumed with examining and sorting every item in those boxes, planning to work straight through without stopping, and then moving on the storage locker.

It was depressing and debilitating.  About a week later, I had an epiphany; there was no timeline for this work.  I pulled all the boxes into a room, dropped the storage locker key on top of a box, and shut the door.

I didn’t open it again for 3 months.

Staying socially engaged

People said, “How can I help” or “Don’t hesitate to call.”  I took them up on the offer.  Some responded and some didn’t; I’m grateful to those who did.  I have friends who were wonderful during those first few months.  They made sure I had options other than sitting home alone on the couch, staring at the wall.  To be sure there were plenty of times when staring at the wall was all I was capable of doing, but knowing there were people out there for me helped.

Simplifying my life

Grief is draining, both physically and emotionally.  My house is a mess, the refrigerator is full of spoiled food, and there are still times when just managing to make it through the day is exhausting; and that’s after a year has passed.

I dropped my standards, big time.  The bills were paid on time, and I showed up at work, but beyond that, I gave myself a ‘bye’.

Accepting the dark side

Late nights spent obsessing over what could have been done to prevent or fix things; weekends locked in the house unwilling to go outside; hours spent looking at pictures and listening to recordings.

That first year was a tumult of emotions.  I’d be on the upswing one day, thinking positive and affirming thoughts, knowing I’d make it through, realizing that I would come of this a better, wiser person, confident in my ability to honor his memory while still living my life.

Other days I was more like the poster child for grief counseling.  Casual remarks from people at work discussing their weekend plans were enough to spin me into despair.  I was furiously angry, deeply despondent, hopeless about any chance of a good future, often all in the same day.

Realizing these mood swings and dark thoughts were normal was helpful.  Accepting that it was Okay to feel real anger at specific people (including myself) was even more helpful. I didn’t self-censor.  I did make sure to avoid sharing these dark thoughts, but I never thought it was wrong to have them.

Planning a future

The week after his funeral, I laid out a timeline for the next year.  It contained all the things I knew had to be done and all the things I wanted to do.  I went back to that list every few months and checked off what was completed.  It started with all the “have to” items; clearing everything out of his house, going through the closing, dealing with legal and financial issues.  The middle stage tasks focused on going through items and determining what I would keep, what would go to family members and what could be disposed.  The final items were future focused, ending with planning a trip and a doing something new that would be a bit scary and get me meeting new people.

Having that silly little plan made me face forward.

Keeping active

The one thing I made sure to keep doing; even when I had to drag myself there; was exercise.  On my worst days, an hour of physical exercise would make me feel better.  Maybe it’s the endorphins being released, or maybe it was just being so physically engaged I couldn’t dwell on things; regardless, I always felt more positive leaving the gym than when I entered.

Just hanging on

Early on, a friend warned me that the first year would be filled with ups and down, and that the best strategy was to just hang on.  Oh, how right he was.  I couldn’t prevent the mood swings, and trying to suppress or ignore them would have been counter-productive.  I just accepted them as part of the scenery.  They’re still there, but the fluctuations are much less.

Trying something new

I signed up for an improv class.  It’s been great to meet people who don’t know me as a widow, and to try something entirely new.  I want to take a vacation.  I’m trying to teach myself a craft.  Every time I do something new, it’s a chance to realize that I can still have a life.

Accepting the positive

This is the hardest, the most difficult, the toughest of all, which is why it is listed last.

There are some positives coming from this horrible situation.   Regardless of the specifics, it is hard to acknowledge them without becoming tremendously guilty.  The tricky part is accepting that my life is moving forward, and that there will be joy and good things and happy moments.  Contemplating this is a bit bittersweet, and that’s as it should be.  It means I’m getting better.