The Little Things

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Yesterday marked five years since my husband’s accident.

I’m not one for paying a lot of attention to the anniversaries of sad occasions, mostly because once something like that happens there are plenty of other days all through the year when the sadness hits and I remember him with love and often tears every day of my life.

But somewhere in my mind as that date approaches it will always trigger a kind of apprehension as I find it also affects the holiday season for me because my last memories of “normal life” with him were over Christmas and New Year’s of 2012, and because that Saturday morning was spent putting away Christmas decorations before he went to work.  It was the last thing we did together on the last day that was normal; the last time I spent with him before saying goodbye and sending him off for the day that would end tragically.

So there is sadness and grief and mourning that will never end.

BUT this year, I also found myself smiling as I was reminded of some of the simplest things I enjoy now that I either didn’t like or didn’t know about before I met Pat.

I used to eat mild cheddar cheese and only mild.  Pat loved strong cheese and didn’t enjoy the mild, so I was gradually introduced to medium and then to old and eventually found my love of good strong cheese that I have today – the stronger the better.  The one stage I couldn’t get to was the blue cheese stage.  He loved it and I still can’t handle it.  But I’m grateful he got me to tolerate and then love strong cheese!

I hated yogurt and couldn’t understand why anyone would eat it, let alone grow bacteria themselves and make their own! LOL  Pat loved yogurt and ate it regularly, and when our son came along it was one of the first foods I introduced to him as a baby and he gobbled up even the plain stuff.  Yogurt was a staple in our house for Pat and both kids; eventually I tried eating some of the fruity varieties and over time I developed a taste for it.  I’ve loved it for years now, I eat it regularly, and if all I have in the house is plain and I want yogurt, I’ll make it work.

I’m sure I probably heard music from Peter, Paul and Mary at some point in my youth, but never really paid attention to them as a group. Pat knew their stuff very well – he was into totally different music than I so I was exposed to a variety of it over the years, some of which I liked and some not so much!  But Peter, Paul and Mary are, to this day, one of my very favourite groups and their music is deeply rooted in my heart.  I also learned to enjoy music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Eagles, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles, along with a lot of other random music that wouldn’t have been on my radar when I was single.

One of the gifts Pat gave me the first Christmas after we started dating was a mix tape he had made with songs from his collection that I got to know and enjoyed while we went for drives in his Scirocco. Today while driving on the highway, I had to smile when I chose the 70’s music station and found myself singing along.

Peanut butter was a take it or leave it thing for me until I met Pat who practically survived on peanut butter and bread!  He didn’t even need the jam.  I don’t honestly know if a day went by that he didn’t grab that snack, even well into his more recent years, and it eventually became a treat for me which isn’t always a good thing because when I get a craving for it, I’ll eat it right out of the jar on a spoon! And when I do, I think of him.

Thanks to his routines, I always remember to check my tires and my washer fluid before I head out for a long drive and I never let my gas tank get low during the winter.

And sometimes when I stop to write myself notes so I don’t forget things now that I’m middle aged, I smile when I’m reminded of how many little notes he used to write for himself even before we got married – I called them “IMP” notes, because he always wrote that at the top! – how they were spread out everywhere, and how I used to tease him about them.  But he always remembered what he was supposed to remember.

So there are many significant and beautiful memories that I carry in my heart.  But sometimes it’s the little things that come to mind that make me smile and remember how much he did for me, how much he taught me, and how much he showed me about life that I didn’t already see.

Five years ago seems like forever, and then it seems like yesterday.  Because his spirit will always be with us 🙂

 

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The Meltdown

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Definition of meltdown

1:  the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor

2:  a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse

3:  a breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation)

I’m sure everyone has their own experience of a meltdown or perhaps, like me, you’ve had a variety of them under differing circumstances.

I don’t remember using the term “meltdown” much, if at all, before the past few years of my life when it became the most descriptive word I could use to put a label on my complete losses of emotional control.  I know that only the third of the above definitions refers to emotions, but I would have to effectively combine all the above definitions into one to come close to some of my own experiences: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.

I suppose I’ve had what would be considered meltdowns in the past, from frustration and exhaustion with a situation I was going through, people I was dealing with etc. when the stress became too much in the moment and overwhelmed me.  Sometimes throwing up your hands and screaming it out in the sanctuary of your own home is all you can do and you know it will pass but you need to get it out so you can breathe again and think a little more clearly.

I’ve also “melted down” on occasion when I’ve been afraid of something; I remember a time when I was pregnant with my first child and I got suddenly violently ill one day.  It lasted for hours and while I was leaning over the toilet, in between crying and being sick, I was praying that God wouldn’t take my baby (my mother had suffered several miscarriages and I was afraid of what was happening to me).  But there was a solution once I saw the doctor, it was just a wild stomach flu, and all was fine again as it passed.

The hardest ones are those that come from pain.  Broken heart pain.  Because there is no solution.  The pain doesn’t pass, and even when you think you’re doing pretty well, you suddenly aren’t.  There’s no situation to resolve, there’s no doctor to make it better.  And you know that once it’s over it won’t be the last.  Those are the kind of meltdowns I have now, at what seem like the silliest times, over the smallest things.  But the truth is that they aren’t over small things at all.

Broken heart pain meltdowns are always about far more than just what is happening in the moment.  They’re about everything that has happened up to that moment and about the things we cannot change or fix or make disappear.  They aren’t about moving forward or time healing.  They’re about never being able to mend a broken heart.

So today I had a trifecta meltdown.  Bet you didn’t know that was even a term, did you?  Yup, it was a frustration, fear, broken heart pain meltdown.

I was hanging some outdoor blinds.  The fact that I have to do this in order to keep the sun and heat from blasting into my house is already a frustration beyond description. I HATE SUMMER.  I hate bugs, I hate heat, I hate the sun shining directly on me.  It makes me physically ill in ways I won’t describe here in detail.  It makes me unable to concentrate or sleep properly.  There is nothing at all about it that I enjoy.  And the temp was expected to reach 24 today so I needed to get it done because after the town crew removed most of my trees last year, and until I can get a few new ones planted, the only thing keeping those UV rays from barbecuing my windows will be those outdoor sun and heat blocking blinds.  I thought I’d have time after the snow melted a few days ago to hang them before the roasting began, but alas, here we are again with no spring at all.  Just six months of annoying snow and then summer. (And no, disliking one thing doesn’t equal liking another.  It’s not the cold of winter I despise, it’s the constant, inconvenient, messy, hard work inducing snow.)

Hanging blinds is never a fun project, but I thought I could start early in the morning, take it one step at a time, go slowly so as not to fall off my ladder, and get them up before the sun got around to the front of my house.  So, with a positive attitude and feeling like I was taking care of business, I gathered my tools and extension cords, dug my ladder out of the shed, put the screws in my pocket and went to work.

I didn’t even think to spray myself with deep woods off – a blatant error on my part because I am the best insect repellent ANYONE ELSE could ever have.  Just sit next to Ann and nothing will bite YOU.  Sure enough, two minutes in, standing at the top of my ladder with my hands full, there’s a bee and mosquitoes and I’ve got a welt on my neck (insert profanity here …).

I drilled the holes I needed, climbed down, and got the bug spray.  This was the beginning of the end, although I didn’t know it just then.

Back out to move the ladder and drill the next set of holes – thankfully the blinds came with a template that you tape up first so you don’t have to do any measuring yourself, which is, incidentally, a wonderful idea that every single blind company should incorporate…

My yard isn’t level.  Anywhere.  Safely steadying a ladder is always a challenge.  After becoming annoyed with the ground under my step ladder and worried that if I leaned too much one way I would end up crashing down in some kind of twisted position that required a call to 911, I decided to haul out the extension ladder to see if I could arrange it differently and get to where I needed to go.  Got it out on the lawn and it wouldn’t extend, so after kicking it in a few places to no avail (insert more profanity here …), I grabbed the hammer and pounded one end until it moved.  Then I carried it over near the window, shifted it around a few times, and gave up because I promised myself I would not take any stupid chances.  Down went the big ladder, and I went back to the step ladder.  Once it finally settled into the ground, I managed to finish getting the first set of brackets in place on the smaller of two windows.

The next window was too long for me to tape up one end of the template and be able to grab it from the other end once I had repositioned the ladder yet again so I had to climb back down and go into the house for a “reacher” as my mom calls it.  I have one because my now deceased aunt had one and I brought it home with me “in case” I might need it to reach for something.  This might be the first time I’ve used it, although my memory in summer heat is not reliable at all.  It proved helpful once I had climbed back up the ladder and needed to reach the hanging end of the template so I could tape it up and drill the holes.

Fast forward to getting the second set of brackets screwed onto the house – nothing too interesting other than more sweat and itchy bug bites and the fact that each time I had to go back in the house, I had to face the hot sun beating down on my step as I came out of the still shady front yard.  You know how the radio always tells you the temp is different in the city than at the airport?  Well I can do that in my yard. “It’s 17 degrees at the front, and 35 degrees on the side step, watch out for those UV rays …”

I was ready to try putting up a blind, thinking that I probably had to wait for Kate (who’s been sick for a week and was at the hospital being diagnosed with pneumonia just to keep things exciting) to hold one end for me, but when I unpackaged it I found it much lighter weight than I’d imagined, so I forged ahead.  Once I had steadied the ladder in place for probably the tenth time so far – between moving it from one end of the window to another and then to the other window and so on – I climbed up, blind in hand.  Of course I couldn’t see properly to the other end to get it in properly.  I struggled with it a few times and finally gave up.

And then it happened: the rapid collapse and melting of my core resulting in a breakdown of self-control.  Everything was just suddenly, randomly, publicly wrong because I don’t have my husband and I was in tears.  And if you aren’t sure how it escalated to that point so quickly, I will tell you:

  • I was hot and tired.  I hate being outside when it’s warm and this project was taking MUCH longer than anticipated so the sun was now moving around to me. (frustration)
  • I was bombarded with fearful thoughts of how I’m going to get through the forecasted extreme hot dry summer over which I have no control and for which I have no solution because my previous successful options for cooling off have been taken away from me due to other issues. (fear)
  • I had no way to hang the stupid blinds myself.  MYSELF.  I shouldn’t have had to be out there myself.  I shouldn’t have had to try to figure this out myself.  I should have had my husband there to help me, to climb the ladder and drill the holes and screw in the brackets and put up the blind with me being the extra hand to hold the open end and tell him when it was clicked in the right place.  I have to do everything my damn self.  (pain)

And I lost it.  Randomly, suddenly, publicly, right there in my front yard over a blind.  But it wasn’t over the blind.  It was because of the broken heart pain that is always there and never goes away.  It just simmers until it boils.  And today it boiled over.  Again.  And as I stood there holding that stupid blind in my hand, staring at my house, crying like a baby, and swearing out loud because I try so hard to do things myself, to be independent and learn and build and fix, I knew it was just a blind, but it was a blind I couldn’t deal with MYSELF.

I knew I could have called someone to come and install the blind.  I could have found someone to help me for free; I could easily have paid someone to do it.  But it wasn’t about the blind.  It was about every single thing that I have to do alone, to figure out alone because he is gone.  Him.  My husband.  My extra set of hands. My strength and support.  The other half of my heart.

I was picturing myself calling my friend to please come and just hold the other end of the blind for me, but I knew I would be crying and have a hard time explaining how this simple task had me in tears.  I knew if I tried to hire someone, they probably wouldn’t be able to come right away and I wouldn’t be able to ward off the 24 degree heat this afternoon which is why I had persevered to that point already.  And then as I was making a final attempt to get it locked in place before completely giving up, my sweet neighbour lady – who, unbeknownst to me had been working in her own yard – walked over and reminded me that I probably shouldn’t be up on that ladder without someone standing by and she offered to get her own ladder so she could stand at the other end and help me.

And I was grateful.  Because that’s all it took to get the blinds up.  Five minutes of help from an extra set of hands.  She didn’t see me crying, but when I told her I was having a moment because it’s times like this that just keep reminding me my husband is gone, she gently sympathized, saying that her husband always helps her on the ladder 🙂  As it should be.

Until next time …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That Special Someone

Two hands creating a heart

I was thinking recently about how, when I was a teenager and growing into an adult, I would observe couples together at social events or in our house when my parents had company.  I would think how nice it was that at the end of the evening, each couple got to go home together, that they would have each other to share stories of the day with, to cuddle up close at bedtime, that they each had someone special who was their own.  And I looked forward to having that experience when it was my turn.

When I got to live life as part of a married couple, those evenings were as I imagined they would be: the comfort, the companionship, the sharing of stories of the day.

Now, I have moments when I recall certain memories that only he and I shared, certain things that only the two of us experienced together.  Those live now only in my own mind.  I can talk about them, but no one actually shares them.  He was THERE.  No one can actually remember with me now, or fill in the blanks as my own memory fades. It’s a simple thing that we don’t really appreciate fully until it’s gone … like many simple little things.

And now, like others I’ve spoken to who find themselves in similar situations, I don’t really fit into groups of couples anymore, and they’re everywhere!  Couples who were friends are still friends, of course, but socially it’s difficult for me to join in on occasions where couples are the norm.  It just hurts to be there.  A lot.

I observe the random loving glances, the shared smiles or laughs, the small physical encounters as they brush past each other.  And it’s still beautiful to see – I will always appreciate it – but I’m not a teenager anymore, imagining what it will be like to have it one day.  I know what it’s like. I know what I’m missing.

That special someone. The one who could finish my sentences, the one who knew me inside and out, better than anyone else in the world and sometimes better than I knew myself.  The one who was the other half of me.

No matter how true my brain knows it is, there are sometimes moments when I cannot grasp how he can actually be gone and how I can be here.  Alone. Still breathing.

 

 

“GRAMPA!!!”

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My kids’ Grampa, Flintstone Park, 1995

The door opens, a child barrels into the house, jumps into the arms of the man waiting with joyful anticipation, and yells: “Grampa!”  The man swoops the child up in the air and they hug each other with big smiles on their faces.  And I burst into tears.  Because it’s happening on a TV show and I know it’s something I will never experience in my home; it’s a small thing, in the middle of a comedy show that makes me laugh time and again, but it hits me hard just as many little things do when I least expect them.

Growing up, I always felt that I missed something in not having grandparents around the way other kids I knew had them, sometimes just down the street.  I only knew one grandparent – my dad’s mom – as my mom’s mom had passed away before I was born and sadly I have only vague memories of her dad because I was very young when he died.  My dad’s dad was never in our lives, or in his.  His mom lived until I was sixteen years old, but we lived about 800 miles away and only saw her about once a year.  I know she was a very good lady, but unfortunately, as my brother and I were the youngest of thirty-one grandchildren, she seemed old for as long as I can remember.  We had chats during our visits, but she wasn’t healthy enough to run around and play or to have us bouncing on her knee, and because of the huge family, our visits were generally crowded with activity, people, food, etc. and seldom quiet enough to actually bond closely.  I know my dad and mom had great respect for her, and I know many stories of her that confirm her character and determination in caring for her family and getting through very difficult times.  Circumstances dictated the nature of our relationship.

So when we had our children I was so grateful they were going to have grandparents close enough to build relationships and watch them grow up.  As parents, we’re always glad when our children can have something we didn’t have, or that we didn’t have enough of compared to what we would have liked to have.

When we brought Michael home from the hospital and over to my parents’ house the first time, my dad looked at him in his little car seat and told me he would pay me $10,000 for each one I had if I just kept making more!  My parents were part of my children’s everyday lives from the start, and when we moved to Alberta, there were regular visits and phone calls, and many memories were made.

Of course, both Grammas and Grampas are very special, but the relationships are different, at least that is what I have observed myself and in some other families too.  Grammas are a lot like moms; they can be fun but they also teach, correct, worry, and try to keep things somewhat organized and safe because they want to make sure their grandchildren grow up to be responsible people with good manners who obey the law and, well, you get the point. They’re often more relaxed than moms, and they’re good at reminding moms not to be too hard on kids.

But there is something about Grampas; just as dad is often perceived as the “fun” parent while mom is busy enforcing rules, making sure the house is clean, and trying to prevent any major injuries, Grampas seem to be the calmer ones, letting the kids have fun, go on adventures, try cool things, probably because they are being entertained themselves just by watching!  Grampas are full of mischief and stories and secrets.

Our children weren’t in the stage of life to be parents yet when Pat had his accident.  But during his time in hospital in Ponoka, he always lit up when little ones came to visit other patients and wanted to get close to them.  I remember him saying that he really wanted to have a grandchild.  I asked him what he wanted to do with a grandchild and he said, in his childlike way: “I could hold them on my knee and kiss them.”  He had it figured out.  he would have been a wonderful Grampa.

But while my children were blessed in having grandparents play an active role in their growing up years and even into adulthood, even though I was happy to see that they had something I had missed, here we are now and they will miss something else that I can’t give them.  If they have their own children one day, there will be stories to share, pictures to look at, and questions to answer. But they won’t experience the joy of bringing home their new baby and seeing the look on their dad’s gentle face that I know would be there: the sweet smile, the tears, the pride.  They won’t later hear their little voices holler with glee: “Grampa!” and neither will I.

After laughing through most of the above-mentioned episode, it took me a little time to gather my emotions together.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the slightest thing can still hit out of nowhere and feel like a stab in the heart in the middle of an otherwise uplifting experience.  We didn’t just lose him for now.  We lost our future with him that was still to hold so much, and this cute little boy on a TV show just reminded me of one more special thing I won’t get to share with the one person I was meant to share it with.

And, as it must, life moves on …

 

This I Know

marriage-quote-ecard I’m compelled to respond to certain comments that have become regular and flippant in our society when relationships go through difficulties or come to an end.  Often I see sarcastic pictures depicting the scorned woman whose man didn’t live up to her expectations, and either continues to make her life miserable or is no longer part of her life at all.  I’m no marriage expert, but I do know something of the dynamics between men and women, what works and what doesn’t work.  I’m not singling out women here to lay blame; it just happens that most of what I hear is from the women’s perspective, so that’s what I’ve chosen to address.

I’ve had people tell me that I was “lucky” to have such a good husband and be married for twenty-nine years, through thick and thin.  I had a very good thing, there’s no doubt, and I will be forever thankful for what I had, but I don’t believe it was lucky.  I think it had a lot more to do with character and commitment, and the fact that we knew each other well enough before we got married to know that we wanted the same things, that we shared goals and dreams together, and that we saw each other not only at our best before we married, but also went through times of trial and saw each other in our less than stellar moments.  We had an open and honest relationship before we decided to join our lives forever.

All relationships have irritations and annoyances because we’re all human.  There wasn’t anything that irritated me during our marriage that I didn’t notice before we got married, and I know Pat could say the same.  I wasn’t starry eyed and blinded by love, I knew I loved him and made the decision to be with him despite the human imperfections, and clearly he did the same with me because I was always much more of a handful than he ever was!

Yet, when I hear people talk today about things that went wrong, they often admit if questioned that they did notice things while dating – sometimes big things – but they dismissed them, thought the other person would change, thought that after the marriage things would be different.  How often does that really work out?  Yes, we sometimes mellow with age, but I’d just like to say that if the guy you’re dating is selfish, a drinker, inattentive, jealous, wastes money, disrespects you in any way, treats his family poorly or has family that treats you poorly, and any of these things – or numerous other possibilities – bother you, make sure they are things you’re willing to accept forever or don’t get married, and don’t make babies with him.  And if you do ignore them or the advice of others around you who try to help you see them, don’t be surprised when things don’t change and you’re left unhappy or divorced.

Yes, there can be something big that arises out of the blue that wasn’t foreseen by anyone, but I’m speaking here about the most frequent situations where people can identify something early on and look back later and know they saw it, or at least signs of it, but went ahead anyway, or rushed in before they had enough experience with each other in various situations to have a pretty good idea of how things were going to be. If women rush into relationships even despite advice from family and friends to the contrary – and they have many reasons for doing this that I don’t claim to understand – they often end up in marriages that aren’t fulfilling and they either feel trapped or they’re alone again after it ends.  The sad thing is that frequently they become bitter and resentful towards men, marriage, and relationships in general, without recognizing that perhaps it’s their own life and way of approaching dating and marriage that is causing their choices and resulting unhappiness.

I wasn’t perfect, but I did take the time to know my future husband, to know his strengths and weaknesses and how those meshed with my own, and nothing in those areas really changed for us in all the years we were married, except that we grew and matured and developed our relationship together and over time it became stronger.  The irritations didn’t disappear, but we learned how to better manage them and sometimes each of us was able to make changes in our attitudes and behaviours to please the other.  And we always understood that we would be together until the end, imperfect as we were, disagreeing here and there, arguing once in a while, and loving each other more and more as we aged.

I never complained to anyone but Pat about things he did that bothered or upset me and he gave me the same respect.  Even my own parents weren’t privy to information about our private relationship. Too often today this privacy isn’t respected and before there’s a chance to resolve an issue, family and friends are all aware of it, giving input and taking sides.  (As a side note, I was pretty sure that if I ever was inclined to complain to my parents they would take Pat’s side and send me home because they knew me well!)

So was I “lucky”?  Was I living some fairytale? No.  I lived in a real life marriage with ups and downs and hard work and many rewards and lots and lots of love.  And we know that even the characters in good stories don’t end up with happily ever after, because eventually one of us is gone forever and the other is left behind to mourn the loss.

I just find it sad to see how many people today don’t seem to get it.  They either rush in, or rush out, or repeat patterns of behaviour that give them disappointing results over and over again, and they miss out on what they seem to really want but never find. I think somewhere along the way maybe they need to change themselves and their way of doing things before they can expect their story to change.  Just my two cents.