I’ve learned quite a bit since my husband died. All sorts of handy skills and life-hacks to help maintain the house and finances. But mostly I’ve stumbled across philosophical truths. It’s exciting to think that one day I might be wise.
I might even start a “Widow Boot Camp” or become a “Widoula!” I’m convinced my girlfriends will need my guidance some day. (Sorry Dudes – statistical probability!)
There are just so many falsehoods surrounding grief and loss.
For starters, I believe we all think the major life events are the days Grief Survivors will circle the drain, spiraling into the depths of their own despair.
I can tell. Because my phone blows up with all manner of genuinely loving texts.***
“Thinking of you today. Hope you have a fabulous Mother’s Day…”
“Happy Anniversary. You were both so blessed to have one another for the short time you did…”
“Merry Christmas! Hope you are surrounded by your children today…”
They also reach out on Easter, his birthday, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. They take me to lunch or brunch to convey their compassion and remind me they are “here for me.”
The first birthday I had after I lost my hubby, several of my friends organized a brunch. About midway through the meal, one of my friends signaled everyone to hold up their Mimosas while she made a toast to the Birthday Girl.
“To the best year ever!”
Clink, clink, clink!
Clinks all around.
As I was clinking, and drinking, I was also thinking…
I seriously doubted I was about to experience my Best Year Ever. But I was equally convinced it probably couldn’t be worse than the preceding year.
Or could it?
I’ve now come to believe the second year of loss might actually be worse than the first. Remember how right after you had a baby or surgery, you sat up in your hospital bed and evaluated your overall pain experience? Most of us thought, ‘There now, that wasn’t so awful! I’m pretty Bad-Ass. I survived!’ You congratulated yourself with a pat on the back – reassured by your own bravery and resiliency.
Until the anesthesia wore off.
No longer numb, you panicked and started scrambling around, wincing in pain , looking for that little button on the bed-remote that has a nurse icon on it.
Likewise, the major holidays aren’t really what triggers the panic.
Quite frankly, my husband wasn’t all that stellar on the Big Days. As a young wife, I genuinely had to learn to manage my expectations. This was partly due to the fact that he was in the restaurant business. He was swamped in the weeks that led up to Christmas and exhausted by the actual day. Ditto our anniversary (one week before Christmas), New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentines Day. Same, same, same.
To be fair, some of his lackluster-ness, might also be attributed to the general stress the “important days” put on all of our relationships. There’s a lot of pressure to make them memorable.
But my husband instinctively knew his way around this problem. He made up for it on the minor days and in the little moments. The forgettable ones. The ones we take for granted.
In fact, he used to give a short speech to his young managers, whereby he acknowledged that their business wasn’t easy on marriage and family. Most of them would always work on weekends and holidays, so they better make up for it on their next day off. Make the little days count.
Like next Tuesday.
As time went on, we dubbed the iconic speech, “Any Given Tuesday.”
Now, it’s the minor days and seemingly insignificant life-moments that really get to me. I tend to be somewhat prepared for the big holidays. Typically, I am armed with scripture, inspiring quotes, and a supportive posse.
But the other day, I was in a restaurant trying to decide between the Rueben and the French Dip, I missed my hubby so much it didn’t matter what I ordered. All I could remember was him telling me, “Order your top two choices for both of us and we’ll share!”
A few weeks ago, Luke donned a cowboy hat and Emilie said, “Who are you Luke?” And he buoyantly answered, “Papa!” He didn’t mean Jimmy. He meant his other grandfather. He will never know Jimmy. And I could’ve never anticipated that level of heart-shred.
This week Luke has finally decided to call me by name. I took him to the park and installed him in a baby swing. He pointed to the swing beside him and barked out an order:
For a second I thought he wanted me to lie down in the park bark. (Which I was perfectly willing to do!) But then I realized it was his best attempt at calling me, “Lady!” Immediately I looked expectantly up to the heavens for my husband and my mom.
“Did y’all hear that?”
”Isn’t he so terribly clever?”
“Isn’t he brilliant?”
“That’s your legacy! He’s calling me by name!”
We learn so much as we muddle through life and loss. Maybe by the time we pass on we are almost complete. Perfect and wise. Maybe it takes longer for some of us than others. Maybe that’s why some die young. I’m still pondering it…
I’ll let everyone know when I’ve got it all down and ready to start a workshop.
But for now, in honor of all my lost loves, I spend my Tuesdays with Luke. Trying to make those little days count.
***texters and well-wishers: Don’t Stop sending that love!
“Do you think other families have a Yellow Thing?” I asked my daughter yesterday morning after an exasperating 2 hour search to locate her invisible plastic retainer…
I think the technical/official name for our “Yellow Thing” is Mail Organizer. Here’s a quick run-down of everything it contains besides mail:
-a Christmas snow globe ink pen
-Many non-holiday-specific ink pens
-20+ paper clips
-A smalł black and white picture of my mother taken in 1944
-A ton of business cards (hint: if we use your business, we’ve saved you to our phones)
-a tube of dried-out super glue
-Screws of various sizes
-Cough drops of various flavors
-A pacifier (probably needs to be sterilized before inserted into baby?)
-enough loose change to pay for a semester at OU
-A brochure for lasik surgery
-A picture of my oldest son, age 3
-A random garage door opener
-Several flash drives undoubtedly carrying Classified State Secrets
-Some folded papers from our local high school delineating procedures we’ve never followed
But, perhaps the most unique thing I fished out of The Yellow Thing was from just a few days ago. I showed Tommy a wet wad of paper I pulled out of his jeans’ pocket, as I was transferring his laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“Man! I hope this paper wasn’t important!”
Peeling the soggy layers apart and examining it forensically, he assurred me it was indeed important. It was a record of his “Service Hours.” Without it, he could never prove he’d done any good in the world. By way of consolation, he said he thought his teacher might give him another. But added,
“Save it though, in case she doesn’t believe me!”
I promptly put it in a ziploc bag and (naturally) placed it in The Yellow Thing…
Our Yellow Thing is an integral and essential part of our family life. Someone in my family is always looking for something, so we would be lost without it. Or rather, without it, we wouldn’t know where to begin to start looking for whatever it is we’ve misplaced.
It sits proudly in a position of prestige on our kitchen counter right as you walk in our door. It’s the first thing you see. Right by our house phone that hasn’t rung in 6 years.
On the counter by the phone sit several pair of scratched sunglasses, regular prescription glasses my son actually uses to see, spare reading glasses for me. Alongside the eyewear are all of our car keys.
So you clearly get the picture. This area is the de facto Business Center of our household. A hub of miscellaneous necessities.
All day, every day for years, my children have shouted,
“Mom, have you seen my _________?”
To which I invariably yell back,
“Check in The Yellow Thing!”
…because that is where I płace all indecipherables that I think could potentially be relevant to someone at some point in the near future. It’s either premature to throw them away, or I can’t identify the object, so it might be important. Or I’m too lazy to put it in a more suitable place.
So back to our search for the missing retainer….
We did a precursory skim across the surface of The Yellow Thing (afterall, we’ve found retainers for all 5 kids in there before). But after a quick glance, it didn’t turn it up, so we proceeded to look in other possible locations.
As time ticked by and we had seemingly exhausted all reasonable search areas, I would occasionally find myself meandering back to The Yellow Thing, with renewed hope, shifting the contents around more assertively.
Finally, as Gracie was replacing all the cushions on our couch, I said,
“There’s really nothing left to do… but…”
In a panicky voice, she quickly tried to intercept me,
“DO NOT DUMP OUT THE YELLOW THING!”
I had already turned it upside down. Hair ties, batteries, coins and car wash tokens were rolling the length of our kitchen island.
“Found it!” she shouted, waving something I couldn’t see triumphantly from across the den.
She had spotted it on the white furry rug under our coffee table. Perfectly camouflaged among the shaggy fibers, where it must’ve fallen.
Hence the name Invisalign.
But now I felt compelled to rifle through the gutted, sprawled-out contents of The Yellow Thing in a half-hearted orgazational effort. I tossed a lot, as you might imagine. But then, feeling somewhat liberated, I merely stuffed ALL the papers back in there for some other day.
I mean, you never know when I might decide I need LASIK and it’ll be good to have that pamphlet handy. I also resolved to start giving “Yellow Things” as wedding gifts to newly married young couples.
Obviously, it’s the only way to efficiently run a family.
“Did anyone invite us to their beach house for Labor Day?” my youngest daughter inquired casually, upon realizing that we were facing down a long 3 day weekend.
“Someone’s lovely lake home, perhaps?”
It was The Trifecta of Un–Invited. Anywhere. But it was ok, I assured her. We could go make our own fun. I suggested we make a hotel reservation in Kansas City, where we could honor laborers, all the while shopping and dining.
She was in.
And I was MORE than IN. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with hotels. I just love them. The plushy robes, the tiny shower gels, their adorable cousins – the miniature body lotions.
Naturally, I’m wild about ROOM SERVICE AND HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING.
I love hotels so much that I had Gracie and her friend do some quick calculations while we were there. I wanted to know how long I could live at The Raphael if I just sold my house and used the proceeds to pay the daily rate…
But mostly what I love about hotels are the swimming pools.
I actually judge a hotel by it’s pool. When all the other adults make a reservation and look at the accommodations, location and thread counts, I’m scrolling through the picture galłery assessing the pool.
Which is a bit silly honestly, because I have a pool here at home. But, no matter. I crave variety in my swimming options.
One of my earliest memories was at a MOTEL. I’m not sure why they’re distinguished from hotels, but I think it’s because our Pontiac got to stay nearby, like a cherished family pet.
It was the 70s and my family was in Washington DC seeing the sights. I vaguely recollect monuments and impressive buildings, but like most kids, what I really remembered was the pool. It was the summer I learned how to jump off a diving board.
I stood at the edge of the board looking down – trying to quash my nerves. It had to be at least a 2 or 3 foot drop. But I screwed up my courage and took the flying leap.
It was all good except for the part where one’s little body sinks in the DEEP END. The part of the pool our mothers had always warned us to steer clear of.
You sink, sink, sink. And then the first chance you have, you kick yourself back up to break the surface. It seems like an eternity before you are reunited with air. And you can breathe.
I loved the entire sensation except the sinking. People talk a lot about life’s ups and downs. I find I’m more of an up person. The down part really sucks.
So my little-girl-self came up with a solution. I would just jump to the side. Per my plan – as I jumped, I would lunge for the side of the pool. The concrete, if you will.
The next thing I remember, I was facing the bright light of the emergency room and getting stitches.
I still have the scar on my chin. It’s a bit of a reminder.
No matter how creative you are, you really can’t get around the downs. They’re a part of life. So we just cling to the belief that buoyancy will haul us back up. Eventually.
We had a great time in K.C. It ended better than my D.C. weekend.
But – I never went for a swim because, as it turns out, The Raphael doesn’t even have a pool. So we came back.
As proactive and creative as I thought my plan was, it probably wasn’t in my best interest to be homeless in 12 years anyway.
“You wanna know what’s wrong with You?”
If those aren’t the very words every single individual longs to hear from their spouse, I don’t know what are.
And it hasn’t even been a year since you spoke those very words to me. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear your assessment of what was “wrong with me.”
And I knew you were about to tell me…
But first you had to fill me in on what I’ve now come to refer to as “The Reservoir Theory.”
“Everyone is born with a reservoir of kindness,” you proffered. “A set amount.”
Hmmm…I thought to myself. This is going to be good. “Do continue, I’m just dying to hear this,” I enthused.
“Your problem is that you went around depleting your reservoir way too early in life,” you explained. “But I, on the other hand, held on to mine all those years you were out wasting yours. And that’s why I’m such a nice guy now and you’re, well…”
“…not as nice as you used to be!”
And then you elaborated a bit more, claiming that I went around in our 20s and 30s wantonly giving my kindness away, while you were far more discerning. According to you, I was nice to a fault, while you held on to your kindness. Contained and retained so to speak. You paced yourself so you would have plenty left over for the latter years.
I decided to mull that one over for a while. And then, eventually, with the general hectic-ness of everyday life (and death), I eventually forgot all about that conversation.
But I’ve had occasion to think about it more lately. I’m not 100% convinced you were holding back.
Because as the months tick away, I’ve come to fully realize how many lives you touched in your short time here.
Your employees send me pictures, thoughts and prayers. They go out of their way to visit the spot where you were killed. Several of them have even organized a golf tournament in an effort to honor your legacy of giving.
One of the Event Organizers confessed to me recently that your death “inspired him” more than his own dad’s.
Lately, I’ve had to start meeting with men like Auto Mechanics, Financial Advisors and the like that you used to do business with. It’s crazy how many of them have teared up while telling me basically the same story: That you “set them straight” about something early in the relationship and how much they loved and respected you from then on…
(On a totally irrelevant side note: how come when I “set a person straight,” they never want to have anything to do with me, yet when you did it, people seemed to love you ever-more?)
It’s also come to light that more than a few of my friends had gigantic crushes on you. They’ve leaked it and it doesn’t even make me mad. I totally get it. I had a gigantic crush on you too.
A lot of our kids’ friends have told us what a positive impact you had on them during their formative years.
I must admit, my initial reaction when you said, “You know what’s wrong with You?” was that the next words out of your mouth better be…
But now, with all the wisdom of hindsight, I’m so glad you shared your Reservoir Theory with me so I can share it with the world.
There now – wasn’t that nice of me?
When we moved back to Oklahoma, we were technically still in our 30s. We were 39 – it was the month before we both turned 40.
We had produced all 5 of our kids by then, with quite the age spread- ranging from 16 down to 2.
There was certainly a wide demographic of potential friends to choose from in our area, but for some reason the women I clicked with were the mothers of our youngest kids, so most of our friends were around 5 years our junior. Not necessarily in chronological years, mostly in “parent-age*”
*You can calculate your “Parent–age” roughly the same way you calculate your dog’s age. 1:7 ratio – So oftentimes it seemed like we were 35 years ahead of our peers.
For starters, you and I were the only ones with teenagers – most of our friends’ children were pre-schoolers. That fact alone created a deep and wide chasm in the vast topography of our child-rearing experience.
But it didn’t prevent us from spending endless hours with those novices-in-training. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we formed a tribe.
We spent long leisurely afternoons at the park watching the kids play; we were the first families to open the neighborhood pool on Memorial Day Weekend and they had to kick us all out on Labor Day – reluctantly dragging our towels, floaties, ice chests and whiners.
But, we made our worlds a bit brighter every Friday afternoon when we took turns hosting “Happy Hour” on one patio or another.
I remember how mortified we were when our little ones would shout their goodbyes to one another in the Catholic school carpool pick-up line,
“Bye!! SEE YOU IN A LITTLE BIT AT HAPPY HOUR!!!”
Their merry salutations often caught the ear of a few of the more conservative parents, the Principal, a couple of teachers and the occasional Priest who happened by.
Most of the time I relished my role as the Senior Mom, but there were times I caught a little flak from our friends when our sassy teens were around, but I didn’t mind too much. First time mommies are a judgey lot.
It’s okay. I still cringe when I recall some of the ridiculous parenting views I held in my twenties. For example, my opinion on “diaper covers” for baby girls:
“I don’t know why people even bother having a baby if they aren’t going to dress it properly.” (A very immature Ginger snapped in 1987)
The grim reality of parenting quickly straightened my priorities out, didn’t it? 14 years later our sons were lucky if they had a diaper on at all They ran around like MOWGLI in A JUNGLE BOOK, barely wearing a loin cloth.
So, I certainly had it coming back to me in spades. I deserved what I got alł those years later when I was surrounded by my posse of “first-timers.” They had a front row seat to the happenings of Everything-Blanchard and could frequently be heard gasping in horror at all the atrocious things our teenaged daughters dished out.
Do you remember the Friday night I was fussing at one of the girls as she was heading out for the evening and she said, “Hey can you put the rest of that lecture in a text, you’re gonna make me late!” (Complete with the universal hand signal for texting – wriggling her thumbs in a mock-texting motion.)
The collective intake of air from my friends was so audible I’m surprised no one inhaled a bug.
As you and I attempted to conceal our amusement and just shake our heads at the clever irreverence of the Common American Teen.
We had simply moved on into the ‘choose your battles stage,’ while our friends were still basking in that innocent adoration stage. “You’re the bestest Mommy in the whole wide world!” – those halcyon days of sweetness they mistakenly thought would never end.
But end they did.
Right about the time we experienced our daughters turning into beautiful and accomplished young women, ever-so-kind, intelligent and respectful, everyone else’s kids (including our younger ones) morphed into surly teens…
And there went the neighborhood.
It was an all-out roller coaster ride from then on. The ones that seemed easy to raise turned out to be a tad more difficult than anticipated. The ones that seemed more challenging at first turned out to be easier than expected. But everyone kept right on parenting.
We all slugged it out in the trenches together.
And then, remarkably, all those creatures transformed into tolerable human beings. And, eventually into incredible adults. It’s amazing how that happens.
But, I must admit, we both secretly enjoyed mocking the audible gasp at our friends’ teenagers’ misadventures and antics through the years.
Now you’ve left us all behind to rest on our proverbial laurels and wait on the grandchildren. In our spare time, our friends sit around pondering the next generation and debating whether we want them to be “sweet and adorable” or “naughty as Hell!”
I’ll never forget the day you and I coined the term, “Revenge Grand-parenting!” We were all for it. It was no secret what camp we were in.
In a recent fit of maternal frustration, I blurted out to one of our friends,
“I hope my grandchildren are the brattiest brats that ever crawl across the face of God’s Green Earth!”
She almost choked to death on a lovely merlot.
MISERY…all she ever wanted was a wee bit of company…
Editor’s Note: Re-posting this in honor of my friend who showed up for work today after the 4th of July holiday with a hickey on her neck. God Bless America. Go get those hickeys while you still can ladies.
When people say, “You’ll laugh at this one day!” they’re usually right…
There are many things that I viewed as utter tragedies at the time of occurrence, that I eventually found humorous down the road.
Way down the road.
But, it’s hard to laugh when you are still cringing. Last Sunday morning, while my husband and I were sipping our coffee, he looked at me quizzically –
“What’s that on your neck?”
“What?” I replied, mildly concerned.
“Turn your head to the side”
“What??” I was growing increasingly concerned.
“What???” Now full-on frantic.
I got up, looked in the mirror, tilted my head to…
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“We’ll Be Working Our Way Back To You Babe With A Burnin’ Love Inside” (Don’t Worry Wee One, We’ll Be Right Back To Raise You…)
Whenever motherhood got the best of me and I started to lose my “Mama-Mojo” you’d always build me back up by saying,
“Oh Hell, we’ve forgotten more crap about being parents than most people will ever even know!”
That always brought a smile to my face and I drew a ton of strength through the years from your unwavering certitude.
As soon as you were convinced my confidence was restored, you threw me back into the lion’s den and left for work. And by “lions,” I mean our very own offspring and by “den,” I mean our very own home.
I don’t know how much actual skill or information we forgot, but we definitely forgot some of the more egregious faux pas we’ve committed in the name of preserving our sanity. Which, by the way is an excellent argument for keeping old friends around. They have it all archived.
I was reminded of this reality just the other day.
Last week we launched the new book, “Lose The Cape – Ain’t Nothing But A Teen Thang”
I did quite a few podcast interviews. On one of the last podcasts of the day, I was lying down, holding the camera at an odd angle and not wearing a stitch of make-up. The conversation may have waned…although this is me, talking about my favorite subject – ME, so I doubt the conversation waned too much.
Nonetheless, listeners were encouraged to text in their comments or questions to the interviewer. That’s when my bestie from Arizona chimed in,
“Ask her about the time they left Tommy at the hospital!”
Oh my…I had forgotten all about that.
I had to sort’ve remember the entire story on–the–fly as I was telling it. But, all the deets came flooding back in the telling.
I remembered you coming home from work and handing me an invitation to a restaurant opening. It was to be a chic spin-off bistro-style concept for an enormously successful chain. I definitely thought we should attend. Unfortunately, it was the day after my due date.
Not to worry! No Blanchard Baby had ever once voluntarily shown up on their due date or even remotely close.
Right on his stinkin’ due date.
Nailed it. Mr. Punctual.
“Too bad we have to miss that restaurant opening tomorrow,” I sighed later that evening, as we gazed lovingly at our precious new little bundle of red-headed testosterone.
“Who says we have to miss it?” You responded, “He’ll never be safer again in his life than he is right here in this hospital. They have doctors, nurses and kick-ass medical equipment. We oughta just discharge you tomorrow, load up the car, go eat lunch at the VIP luncheon, shake a few hands, network a bit and then circle back and fetch the little fella!”
I wish I could go back and see the look on my face as my jaw dropped open. Appalled. Leave my baby at the hospital? After he had literally been a part of my body for 9 months? Why, the mere suggestion just flew in the face of everything instinctual about motherhood and childbirth.
And yet, it was hard to argue with the logic.
So that’s exactly what we did. We discharged me, asked the head RN of the nursery what time “late check-out” was for the little guy, went and had lunch and then came back to fetch him posthaste.
He was our 5th child. It was definitely not our first rodeo.
When we arrived back at Chandler Regional, they matched up the plastic identification bracelet I still had attached to my wrist with the plastic identification bracelet attached to his tiny ankle and pronounced us “mother and son.” (Another friend suggested that they could have, alternatively, confirmed maternity by matching hair swatch samples.)
We were free to take the boy home and raise him as our own.
Which we did. Of course you were right, he was truly safer and in much better hands at the hospital. But, as my mom always drawled, “We just loved the dickens out of that boy ever since!”
I know a lot of people have read a lot of books on parenting and attended many workshops on the topic, I think one of them might have even been called “Love and Logic.” We never seemed to need those with you around.
It just always felt like, together, we were our own quirky version of Love and Logic.