When it’s a challenge to finish writing a blog post

I’m having a hard time finishing posts.  There’s a bunch of half-written ones sitting on my hard drive.  I’m feeling stuck, and not just in regards to writing.  I don’t like my life right now.  It’s lonely and I expect it will stay that way, maybe permanently.

This blog started under a different name as a way to come to terms with a widowhood that was not expected.  Writing blog posts became my way of coping with a present that seemed incomprehensible.  Its anonymity gave me a safe spot to direct anger, grief, confusion, and sadness.  Connecting with other people in a similar situation provided an ad hoc online support group.

The very act of writing was healing.  I’m a rationalist, the kind of person who likes to imagine there is a logical progression to events.  Of course, there isn’t, but I need to impose some semblance of order to chaos.  Writing provided that chance.  Creating a blog post gave me a chance to step through an event, define its genesis, and consider where it might be taking me.

Then there were those posts where I just related events as simply and honestly as possible, and the very act of documenting them was important.  I knew the smoothing effect of time and distance would eventually eliminate the sharp immediacy of what was happening, and I wanted to remember.  Writing about events as they occurred provided a first-person account of what I was going through.  Going back and rereading those raw early posts is a form of time-travel to where I was16 months ago.

That was then.  This is now.  My grief is a knife dulled from over-use.  That first year was busy; having external deadlines provided a sense of purpose and accomplishment.  It filled the void.  I realize that now, as does anyone who has gone through a similar situation.  There’s the immediate work needed in getting the memorial and funeral completed, probate managed.  The hours spent in going through effects and taking care of things.  Details vary; regardless, the work takes a lot of time and energy.   I’m struggling with the “what’s next” that comes, inevitably, to all of us who like to imagine that we can plan our way through life.  Now I’m facing the areas that can’t be managed, planned, or controlled.  I don’t want to be alone.  I don’t like my life.  I’m not happy.

All the glibly banal self-help aphorisms are useless.  I fully realize what is within my circle of influence and what isn’t, what I can control and what I cannot.  I am not stupid.  I am doing all the right things, from spending time with friends to taking classes.  I am busy, but not engaged.   There is little enjoyment from most of what occupies my time.  I look to fill time, to make the hours go by.  I am disengaged from most of what is happening around me.  I’m sure this, too will pass.  I am sure that eventually I will come to accept my new status in life, to stop expecting anything more than the reality I have.  I’ll adapt, make due.  Perhaps, even, at some point there will be something that makes me feel it’s all worth it.  Perhaps.  But not now.

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Weekly Challenge: Time is not on My Side

Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years

For fiction, cultivate a character. Through your imagination, pinpoint a common theme in his or her life, and show us how your character’s perspective changes as he or she grows older.

In my dreams, I’m always young.  I rush about, juggling work, parenting, and the slim expectation of having a personal life.  When I lived through that time it was exhausting and not very pleasant, and yet, it’s where I go every night.

Some mornings when I wake up, I’m still back there, and start to throw off the covers to  get out of bed and start breakfast for the kids.  I realize it was a dream as soon as I see my hands on the covers.  They are age-spotted with ropy blue veins clearly visible through the thin, dry skin.  My fingers are gnarled with large knuckles and yellowed, seamed nails.  These are not the hands of a young woman.

I am old: older than I ever expected to be.  My kids are grown up.  Even my grandchildren are off on their own and forging ahead in life.

I slowly swing my legs out of bed and onto the floor, and concentrate on the challenge of walking to the bathroom.  Movement of any kind is fraught with danger for me.  Broken hips are no laughing matter; I’ve lost friends to them.

When I was young, I viewed time as a commodity that existed independently, able to be saved or spent at will.  I raced from work to pick up the kids, raced home to create some semblance of dinner, raced to music lessons and scout meetings and sports practices.  I tried to extract additional time by using thinner pasta, or driving a little over the speed limit; anything to save 10 minutes.  I bargained with the clock, trying to find a few minutes in one place to use in another.  Although I could never balance a checkbook, I was able to maintain a far more complex set of books in my head.  I knew which Saturdays I could sleep in and deliberately stayed up later those weeks, believing I could catch up.  I raced through so much of my life then, positive that I was storing time for later use.

I was wrong.  Time is inextricably linked to space, and all my maneuvers were meaningless.  I couldn’t “save” time any more that I could “waste” it.  It simply was, and regardless of what I did it continued to pass, and I continued to age.

My kids graduated high school and moved out, and suddenly I was inundated with more time than I knew what to do with.  Now that my evenings were long and empty, I would have loved to have read them books or just sat and talked, but there was no way to realign the time I now had with the space that was past.

I was time-rich, but it didn’t matter because there was nothing on which to spend it.  I added other things to my life: classes, work, going out with friends.  I dated, even remarried, took vacations, read books.  Nothing I did had any effect on time.  I still moved through space, the clock still ticked, and the years still passed.  I didn’t age any more slowly because I had less to do.

I get, now, that bargaining with time is futile. A minute when you are busy may seem like less time than a minute spent waiting, but it is the exact same amount of your life.  The key, I’ve learned, is to stop looking at the clock so much and start looking at the people you are standing next to.

Once divorced, once widowed: what’s the difference?

During a first meeting with a new friend, it came out that we’ve each been married twice.  He mentioned being twice divorced; I said I was once divorced, once widowed.  A brief conversation on the difference between being widowed and divorced came up.  While we didn’t spend much time talking about this (nothing dead-ends a potential relationship more than rambling on about past ones), it has gotten me thinking a lot about the differences between the two events.

Going through a divorce provides far more choices than going through the death of a spouse.  For most of us, divorce is an option that we choose, while the death of a spouse is something that happens to us.  I realize this is a “Captain Obvious” statement, but the implications are great.

Making choices provides a sense of power and control, even when the choices are limited.  Being a part of the group that is making decisions is always better than just hearing about decisions that were already made, whether the venue is work or personal life.

Very often, the situational realities surrounding death consist of a long series of events with few choices given, and those choices tend to be quite grim.  Certainly for me, and I believe for many people, going through the experience of losing a spouse is an exercise in powerlessness.  You can’t change the course of a disease, or go back in time to prevent an accident.  Especially in situations where hospitalization is involved, the role of the spouse is bystander.  I spent a month sitting with nothing meaningful I could do to help.  By the time I needed to plan a funeral, my ability to make meaningful, rational choices was gone.  In fact, one of the more challenging parts of those first few months of being a widow was a shell-shocked feeling that hit me when I did need to make decisions.  My mind felt like half-set Jell-O, sluggish and thick.

Going through a divorce presents a panoply of choices and the ability to exercise some real power. Every step of a divorce requires action and choices.  The entire process is a jockeying for power and control.

Which leads to the 2nd big difference; change.  Death has no backsies.  Divorce does.  My ex-husband and I have a good relationship. He sent me a very heartfelt sympathy note when Rick passed away.   It wasn’t always that way.  We went through years of acrimony, but the need to continue being parents, and time, eventually brought us to the place we are now.

Death eliminates change.  Part of the grieving process is coming to terms with the realization that wherever you were in the relationship is where it stopped, forever.  Whether it was the best time of your relationship or the worst, there will never be any more growth.  It’s over, irrevocably, and undeniably.

Moving forward is another area, one I’ve written about before.  Every step forward after a divorce is a positive and affirming move; the same actions taken after a death seem bittersweet at best, betrayals at worst.  I first wrote about this months ago, when something as small as moving a bookcase seemed fraught with subtext.  Now I’m actively meeting new people, and it is causing me angst on a level I haven’t felt since adolescence.  I’m feeling more distant from my marriage; in my head it is now firmly in the past.

There’s a new level of grief with that realization.  Last year, I started every day wearing our wedding rings on a chain around my neck; they were my talisman, giving me strength and the ability to make it through each day.  In my heart, I was still married.  This year, I am not.  I look at those rings every morning, but I rarely wear them. My grief is less personal, more situational: I grieve the loss of a future that is no more, of hopes and expectations and dreams that will never be.

Divorce spurs that same loss of a potential future, but differs in that the bittersweet is less, the joy in realizing it will be a different future is so much greater.  I’m slowly coming to see that there can be joy, that there will be changes, but I’m still feeling guilt and loss over that realization.

Ultimately, I think that confusing patchwork of joy and sadness, poignancy and excitement that marks moving on after losing a spouse is the greatest difference between being divorced and widowed.